Could it actually happen? Could a pact over taxes and unemployment insurance come together without last-minute drama? Could Washington actually reach a deal without 11th-hour histrionics and dysfunctional gridlock?
It’s looking quite possible. Early Thursday, lawmakers negotiating over an economic plan that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits reached a final approval, and a vote is expected as early as Friday. What happened this time? Perhaps Obama’s strategy of being more confrontational is finally working. Maybe the GOP wised up to the idea that blocking a middle-class tax cut in an election year is rarely good politics. Either that or everyone has ski vacations planned for the President’s Day recess.
But perhaps the best explanation is that the GOP is learning to pick its battles. The side often called the “party of no” appears to be shifting toward a realization that it cannot continue its strategy of obstruction. Obama’s improving poll numbers may be playing a role. Or, the crop of new lawmakers ushered in during the last election could be starting to learn more about how the process works. Either way, as freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) told Politico, “there are some things that are good battles for us to have, and some that aren’t the best for us.”
It’ll be interesting, of course, to see if it holds, especially when the next debt ceiling debate or budget brouhaha reaches the floor. And there are still questions about whether House Speaker John Boehner can keep all his ducks in a row. Without spending cuts to offset some of the bill’s provisions, there are still a number of conservatives who would like to say “no” to this bill.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction for a party leadership that, despite its majority in the House, has put itself in a position of having less political capital to spend long term. The art of picking battles is essential for any leader, but it’s still a hard lesson to learn. As we’ve seen with the birth control battle between the White House and the Catholic Church, going for broke left one side having to walk back its promises to women’s groups—and the other side fighting against a benefit that many of its female members already use. Even if the church scored a near-term victory, there will likely be costs in the future if it goes too far in trying not just to undo the administration’s recent revisions for faith-based groups, but fight a widely popular benefit to a greater extent.
Politics is no different. No side can have it their way every time, and no side can be the one to compromise in every instance. Sooner or later, people simply want to see something get done. The GOP’s leadership may finally be getting the picture that the time has come.
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