Tea Party Pressures Boehner to Flip on Tax Cuts
Policy + Politics

Tea Party Pressures Boehner to Flip on Tax Cuts


House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, just got another painful reminder that the Tea Party Republicans who helped put him in power last November are determined to keep him on a short leash. After appearing to sign off late last week on a bipartisan agreement in the Senate for extending a payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for another two months, Boehner backed down over the weekend after getting an earful from his most conservative member and now is ardently opposed to the approach.

This morning, he all but guaranteed that the House would reject the Senate compromise tonight and force a resumption of the protracted and chaotic negotiations. This development will enable Tea Party conservatives in the House to dictate the terms of a final agreement, but it will also run the risk of scuttling talks with Senate Democrats and the White House. Should that happen, 160 million Americans will lose out on tax breaks and millions more will lose their unemployment insurance benefits beginning Jan. 1.

House leaders had their own cans kicked when many conservative and Tea Party members strongly objected to the terms of the deal.

Boehner insists that it’s time that Congress and the administration stop “kicking the can down the road” and forge a deal that will resolve questions about tax breaks, extended unemployment benefits, Medicare payments to doctors and the future of a major oil pipeline proposal for the coming year. But he and other House leaders apparently had their own cans kicked during a conference call on Saturday, when many conservative and Tea Party members strongly objected to the terms of the deal.

Standing alone at a lectern at the Capitol and looking anything but confident Monday morning, Boehner predicted the Republican controlled House would defeat the deal worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and force high-level negotiations between the two chambers on a plan that would extend the benefits for a full-year, as President Obama originally demanded.

“I expect the House will disagree with the Senate amendment and instead will vote to formally go to conference – the formal process by which the House and Senate can resolve differences between the two chambers and between our two bills,” Boehner said.

“The idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is the kind of activity that we see here in Washington that’s really put our economy off its tracks,” Boehner said. “Last week, both chambers worked together to pass a full-year bill to fund our government.  And I don’t think this issue is any different. It’s time for Congress to do its work; no more kicking the can down the road.”

Some House Republicans oppose the short-term nature of the deal, arguing that it would be bad tax policy to provide just a two-month extension....

But with the Senate in adjournment and the two parties miles apart on how best to structure and finance a year-long extension of the tax and unemployment insurance measures, Boehner’s pre-Christmas surprise could leave the tax cut and unemployment insurance issue in limbo through the holidays, raising the specter of another economic blow to average Americans that could hurt the already fragile economic recovery.

The Senate deal was a classic example of a Congressional compromise in which the most contentious disputes were papered over or set aside to avoid a political catastrophe. The vote on was 89 to 10 to approve a $33 billion package of measures to extend a two-percentage- point reduction in the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax and extend unemployment benefits for those already receiving them, as well as a measure demanded by Republicans that would speed up an administration decision on whether to authorize construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the Gulf Coast. The compromise would also avert a sharp reduction in Medicare reimbursements to health care providers – the so-called “Doc Fix.” The Senate measure would be effective through February.

Boehner, the product of a bygone era of House politics in which compromise was not a dirty word, reportedly was willing to go along with the temporary solution that would spare the Republicans the embarrassment of triggering a tax increase on middle-income Americans after vowing to oppose tax increases of any stripe. However, that was before the Saturday conference call, when some conservatives offered blistering analysis of the Senate compromise.

Some House Republicans oppose the short-term nature of the deal, arguing that it would be bad tax policy to provide just a two-month extension as well as bad politics to keep the issue alive for President Obama.“Frankly, I don’t think anybody in the House Republican conference sees it as much of a compromise,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told the Washington Post.

Boehner first revealed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he had reversed directions and now opposed the Senate-passed version. Reid on late Friday urged the House to take up the measure. He said, “Senator McConnell and I negotiated a compromise at Speaker Boehner’s request. I will not re-open negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate."

Boehner said today that while he urged Reid and McConnell to negotiate a compromise, he made it clear he would reserve judgment until he saw the final package. Asked by a reporter why he didn’t “raise the red flag” when he saw the emerging outlines of the agreement, Boehner said, “We expressed our reservations about what the Senate was doing.”

Boehner’s problems in trying to negotiate difficult long term budget and tax policy without alienating conservative Republicans who helped elevate him to the speakership is becoming an old story. Last July, Boehner and President Obama came close to secretly negotiating a $4 trillion long-term deficit reduction package of entitlement reforms, spending cuts and tax increases before House conservatives found out about it and forced Boehner to pull out. Moreover, the government veered dangerously close to the first ever default on U.S. debt last summer when Boehner was hamstrung by conservatives’ demands for deeper budget cuts than the administration was willing to agree to in negotiating new debt ceiling legislation.

Last November, the Republicans parlayed widespread voter dissatisfaction with the economy, unemployment and a soaring national debt into their biggest victory since 1948 with a net pick up of 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. Boehner, a chain-smoking veteran Republican who spent years in the political backwaters, was elected speaker. And since then he has struggled to find ways to advance the GOP economic, budget and tax policies of his party while placating the restless Tea Party members.