* Nice Sam Stein scoop: In 2009, Republicans pushed a payroll tax holiday that would have lasted ... two months, and they even suggested at the time that it would stimulate the economy.

* A thaw in Obama’s approval ratings? A new Post poll puts him at 49-47, a significant jump from 44 percent in November, and the first time his disapproval has dipped below 50 percent in months.

Also: While Obama’s numbers are still low on the economy, Americans trust Obama over Republicans to protect the middle class, 50-35 — a margin of 15 points. And this is key:

On taxes, Obama has improved since early October, while public trust of the GOP has slipped. Some 46 percent now side with Obama on the issue, and 41 percent with the Republicans in Congress. Independents now side with the president on that front by a 17-point margin, 49 to 32 percent.

The president’s rise suggests that the White House’s shift in tactics in recent months to adopt a more populist tone and to challenge Republicans aggressively over taxes and income disparities may be shifting the national political landscape back to Obama’s favor.

That’s pretty good timing for Obama, given the current showdown over the payroll tax cut, isn’t it? Also: In a rational world, Obama’s 17-point advantage on taxes among independents would quiet the nonstop claims that his new populism risks alienating the middle of the country.

* Jonathan Chait on a genuine shift in GOP thinking about taxes: Republicans are opposing the payroll tax cut extension because they want everyone (other than the rich) to start paying more of the tax burden.

* Sighting: A single House Republican willing to break with the GOP leadership and support the payroll tax cut extension. Only two dozen or so more to go...

* Chris Cillizza on why the House GOP’s opposition to extending the cut amounts to “a political high wire act without a net.”

* Democratic leaders swear up and down that this time they really, truly will not cave on the payroll tax cut extension, and it does seem like they are aware that they have the leverage this time around.

Footnote: It does need to be pointed out, though, that they already dropped the millionaire surtax.

* Steve Benen is right about Politico’s decision to run yet another piece by Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell calling on Obama not to run for reelection:

Any outlet describing Schoen as a “Democrat” without context or asterisks is misleading the public.

This wasn’t news the first time they said this. Why is it news now that they’ve repeated it for the fourth or fifth time?

* Igor Volsky on the latest development in Mitt Romney’s health care positioning: He would not repeal the mandate at the center of “Obamacare” (which of course was modeled on his own use of a mandate).

* It appears that Newt Gingrich gave his health care clients advice about “Obamacare” that differed rather markedly from his public statements about how tyranical it will be.

* Jonathan Capehart uses Scripture to rebut GOP candidates who are passing judgment on gays in the name of religion, and labels the GOP the “Gay Obsessed Party.”

* The primal scream of the day: Erick Erickson tries to warn Republicans one last time against picking a nominee who supported both the individual mandate and TARP, the two top nemeses of the Tea Party.

* And a quick note to readers: Apologies for the slow posting today; a few things came up. Back to normal first thing in the morning.

What else is happening?