Don’t look now, but it really does look as if Dems just may hold the line in the payroll tax cut fight. With House Republicans calling on Senate Dems to reopen negotiations over the Senate bill temporarily extending the tax cut, Harry Reid has now sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner firmly rebuffing the demand.

Reid also offers Boehner a deal that he’ll have a very hard time refusing: Reid says he’s willing to sit down and negotiate over the terms of the one-year extension — but only if the House GOP passes the shorter-term extension first. Here’s the letter:

Dear Speaker Boehner,

Our respective chambers have been seeking for weeks to negotiate a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut for middle-class families, as well as unemployment benefits and Medicare payments for physicians.

You and I agree that this should be our goal. But as these weeks have made clear, there remain differences between our parties over how to fund and implement these programs that will take longer then a few days to reconcile.

Recognizing this reality, eighty-nine Republican and Democratic senators came together to agree to a short-term extension of these programs. As you requested when we met last Wednesday, Senator McConnell and I worked together to find this common ground. Once the House of Representatives acts on this immediate extension, we will be able to sit down and complete negotiations on a longer extension. But because we have a responsibility to assure middle-class families that their taxes will not go up while we work out our differences, we must pass this immediate extension first.

As the Senate vote made clear, there is no reason for this to be a partisan issue. I am fully confident that we can work out our differences and find common ground on a year-long extension. But in the meantime, families should not have to worry that they will wake up to a tax increase on January 1, 2012.

To provide middle-class families the certainty they deserve, I urge you to reconvene the House to act on the Senate’s bipartisan compromise as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Senator Harry Reid

Reid responds to the House GOP argument that a one-year extension is necessary by pointing out that Boehner himself appointed Mitch McConnell as his negotiator to find a solution with Dems, and by noting that the solution they found passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Reid also tells Boehner he’s fully prepared to negotiate over the one-year extension the House GOP wants, but that in the name of giving middle class families tax relief and “certainty” (a favorite GOP buzzword) those talks won’t happen until House Republicans relent and pass the short term extension.

Relatedly, there’s another reason that big Wall Street Journal editorial excoriating Republicans is so important: It makes it more likely that Dems will hold the line until the GOP buckles. Between the Journal editorial, and the mounting number of Senate Republicans criticizing the House GOP handling of the issue (the latest being Bob Corker), Dems think the pressure on House Republican leaders will only increase, making the dynamic progressively worse.

There’s obviously still time for Dems to drop their hard-edged posture and agree to talks with House Republicans before they pass the Senate bill. And it’s worth reiterating that Dems have already made a string of concessions to Republicans in this fight. But if Dems stick by their current position, we may soon witness an all too rare example of what Dems are able to accomplish when they draw hard lines and refuse to budge from them, something they’ve often been unwilling to do, even when the public is on their side.