President Obama's big victory in the payroll-tax fight will have important consequences for his 2012 re-election campaign. Most important, he showed that he is willing to stick to his guns and get his way in a confrontation with Republican adversaries. This is likely to soften Democratic criticism that Obama is a weak negotiator who gives in too quickly.
The resolution came after House Republicans backed down from their opposition to a Senate-White House compromise that extended the payroll tax cut for two months for 160 million Americans.
The House GOP preferred a year-long extension, along with other conservative provisions, but there was no agreement on how to pay for the lost revenue to the government. As the stalemate continued this week, the reaction against the House GOP grew severe and angry, even from some Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona. So the House Republicans backed down. The resulting deal, nearly the same as the Senate and White House version, will preserve the tax cut for two more months and give congressional negotiators time to extend it for a full year.
"This is good news, just in time for the holidays," Obama said last night. "This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy and create new jobs This is real money that will make a real difference in people's lives."
House Speaker John Boehner tried to put the best face on the deal but his glum manner and terse statement revealed a man who was coping with defeat. "It's time to do solid policy," Boehner noted. "It's time to do it the right way."
But for many Americans, it was time to stop the spectacle of hyper-partisanship and brinkmanship.
In sum, here are my five takeaways from the week:
- President Obama was the big winner. He showed that he can play for high stakes, hold fast, and out-maneuver the opposition. Most important, he came across as the capital's prime defender of the middle class, which is exactly the territory he wanted to stake out for himself in the 2012 campaign.
- Majority Republicans in the House were the big losers. They came across as obstructionists and overly strict ideologues who ignored the wishes of Middle America.
- As far as individuals are concerned, House Speaker John Boehner was the biggest flop. He showed that he can't control his own caucus and that Tea Party conservatives continue to play a huge role in picking fights with the Democrats and the White House.
- The Washington Establishment took a big hit, especially Congress. The legislators, especially the House Republicans, seemed intent on playing in the political sandbox. The fuss confirmed many Americans' worst impressions about Washington--that it is preoccupied with puerile brinkmanship, inflexible ideology, and a dearth of common sense.
- Prospects for compromise in the immediate future are bleak. The election year will make accommodation more difficult as major factions cater to their core constituencies in advance of the balloting. It will probably require a national election to clarify the direction in which the American people want Washington to go.