Back to the Brink: Congressional Deal on Payroll Bill Disintegrates

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2011 Getty Images

An intractable governmental standoff, with the threat of a self-inflicted wound to the fragile economy: How did we get into this mess yet again?

To recap: On Thursday, Congressional lawmakers hammered out a deal to extend the payroll tax holiday for two months. As of Saturday, everything was moving forward swimmingly. The Senate passed the measure 89-10, with the expectation that the bill would similarly sail through the House with John Boehner's support.

Wrong.

A day after telling his caucus that the bill would be a victory over Obama, Boehner did an about-face, telling Meet the Press that the two-month extension would be “just kicking the can down the road. It’s time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences and extend this for one year.” Without congressional action, the tax holiday is going to expire in thirteen days, imposing an effective tax hike on 160 million workers. The Senate has adjourned for the holidays, and Senate Democrats are refusing to consider a longer deal until the short-term extension is in place.

Democrats quickly assigned blame to the tea-party-affiliated members of the GOP caucus. Chuck Schumer: “You cannot let a small group at the extreme resort to brinksmanship every time there is a major national issue and try to dictate every move this nation makes.” According to reports, Boehner at first spoke approvingly of the Senate deal as a coup for the GOP, but Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whip Kevin McCarthy, and conference chairman Jeb Hensarling all criticized it.

Timothy Noah has a different theory:

Apparently it has a lot to do with feeling that the Senate Republicans are pushing them around. Or that their own Republican speaker is pushing them around.  Possibly it's because a sizable portion of the GOP has come to believe that any deal that Democrats will accept is inherently corrupt. Even a deal to cut taxes, which is one of only three things the Republicans know how to do.

As of Sunday night, Cantor has scheduled a vote on the bill for Monday. Politico reports that it is expected to fail. If the payroll tax holiday expires, there will be plenty of blame assigned among Democrats and Republicans alike. But it may be that much easier for President Obama to run against a dysfunctional Congress.