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Post Leadership
Posted at 12:02 PM ET, 12/21/2011

John Boehner’s leadership mess on the payroll tax cut

Under the leadership of Speaker of the House John Boehner, the House has rejected the bi-partisan two-month payroll tax cut extension that has been approved by a majority of the Senate on Saturday. (Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)
Here we go again: Another day, another impasse. On Tuesday, House Republicans rejected a Senate proposal to extend the payroll tax cut for two months and are pushing for a conference committee discussion between the two houses of Congress to resolve the issue. Senate Republicans who voted for the proposal now look not to be united with their House colleagues. Congress and the Obama White House yet again appear unable to resolve even a tax cut for middle-class Americans without unnecessary bickering.

But no one comes out of this mess looking worse than Speaker of the House John Boehner. In a scathing editorial, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page calls into question whether Boehner will be Speaker come 2013 and is saying that he reportedly “flipped” his position on the proposal within 24 hours, following a revolt by his members. A senior Senate GOP aide told Politico that “it’s time for Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor to look these rookies in the eye and explain how the game is won or lost.” Even Republican senators themselves—such as Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who called the House’s actions that Boehner is leading “irresponsible and wrong”—have been questioning the tactics.

So what’s up Boehner’s sleeve? Ezra Klein lays out, with the help of Congressional scholar Sarah Binder, a few reasons Boehner may be pushing a conference committee process. (At this point, it seems as if the approach matters more than the outcome. We are talking about middle-class tax cuts, after all, so some kind of extension seems destined to pass.) The procedure helps to distract from the disagreement, it gives Boehner a way to stand up to the Senate and the president and, perhaps worst of all, it lets him offload the decision to his members.

None of those reasons, of course, are very becoming for a leader. Keep in mind we are already talking about a two-month or one-year extension, rather than a permanent solution to the issue or how to pay for it. Now, we are not only kicking the can on the decision about payroll taxes, but Boehner is also punting on who will make the decision. By trying to force a conference decision, Boehner (whose office says the committee is a way to resolve the differences between ideas for a two-month and one-year extension) is only distancing himself from the responsibility of making it.

We’ve all seen how well it works to put a group of Congress members from both Houses and both parties in a room together to try and solve a problem. (Ahem.) What we need right now from our leaders is not new procedures for getting things done, or new ways to shift the blame less than one year out from an election. We need them to actually get things done themselves, and to put the good of the country before their own good.

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By  |  12:02 PM ET, 12/21/2011

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