Opinion Brief

Payroll tax fight: Has Boehner lost control of the GOP?

The House speaker rejects the Senate's bipartisan tax deal after members of his caucus revolt. Just who's calling the shots in the House?

Republican John Boehner is ending his first year as House speaker with a high-stakes political gamble: On Tuesday, his caucus rejected a Senate bill to extend a popular payroll tax break for two months. Instead, House Republicans insisted that the recessed Senate — which passed the temporary extension 89-10 — come back to Washington to square its bill with the House's plan, which extends the tax break for a year, but also makes spending cut demands that Democrats strongly oppose. The Senate is holding firm, and Senate Republicans are livid. Indeed, Boehner appeared to support the bipartisan Senate deal before his unruly caucus balked. Now, the House speaker is flunking his "last and biggest political test of a wild year," say Jonathan Allen and Seung Min Kim at Politico. "Has John Boehner lost control?"

Yes. "Radical backbenchers" are calling the shots: This obvious cave to Tea Party freshmen proves Boehner is "less a leader of his caucus than a servant of his radical backbenchers," says Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. Instead of victories, these "sophomoric" freshmen have delivered Boehner "a string of insults." In fact, the Tea Partiers have become so "tipsy with power" that maybe Boehner should give up his speaker's gavel and admit what he truly is: "Their barkeep."
"On tap: Radical Republican Winterfest"

No. Boehner and his team did the right thing: Critics are spouting nonsense, says Americans for Prosperity's Phil Kerpen at Politico. Boehner's caucus passed its own bill, "which is superior in many respects" to the Senate plan. "Pundits can argue about whether Boehner's move is good politics," but it's clearly better policy than the Senate's "weak two-month punt attempt." House Republicans were right to call senators back to work to fix their unworkable "political gimmick."
"Has Boehner lost control of the House?"

Regardless, the GOP really "botched the politics": "The short extension makes no economic sense, but then neither does a one-year extension," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Neither tax holiday would truly affect hiring. This is simply a political exercise, and clearly, the GOP has made a hash of things. Bohner did flip on the Senate bill after "House members revolted." And now President Obama is in the driver's seat. Thanks to a lack of strategy, infighting, and messaging flubs, Republicans have "achieved the small miracle" of losing this tax fight to the Democrats.
"The GOP's payroll tax fiasco"

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