It’s widely understood that John Boehner is in a very difficult spot. On the one hand he has to worry about the Tea Partyers in his caucus who don’t want him to compromise on extending just the middle class tax cuts (what they call “raising taxes”). On the other, Obama has far more political leverage here, and as Boehner knows, the GOP is likely to take the blame if middle class taxes go up on millions of people at the end of the year.
But it’s worth noting that Boehner does have a way out. Think back to what happened when Boehner was in a similar position in the battle over the payroll tax cut — which led to Republicans capitulating. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one plays out just as that one did.
Remember, Tea Partyers were adamant that Boehner not give in to extending the payroll tax cut. Boehner vowed darkly that Republicans would not cave. But as the deadline loomed, individual Republicans and GOP-aligned commentators began calling on the GOP to concede and regroup to fight another day, noting that Republicans had to recognize when the time had come to fold. As you’ll recall, the way it played was that Boehner was simply bowing to the inevitable. He had been forced by circumstances to capitulate. If he has paid a major price for doing that, I’m not aware of it — even conservatives acknowledged he had done the right thing politically for his party and his vulnerable members.
The same thing could happen this time. Boehner can simply wait until the deadline looms and until more Republicans come out and say the battle is lost. That may well happen, since some House Republicans will not relish returning to their districts to explain why taxes went up on the middle class. And then Boehner can allow the House to vote on and pass the Senate bill extending just the middle class tax cuts. He won’t have caved; he’ll have fought the good fight up until the end; and Republicans can regroup for next year. Indeed, it’s not clear this is such a bad outcome for them. As David Dayen notes, if Republicans remove the middle class tax cuts from the equation, they could enjoy increased leverage over other Dem priorities, such as extending unemployment benefits and (again) the payroll tax cuts, and raising the debt ceiling.
In this scenario, even if some vulnerable Republicans do vote to extend the middle class tax cuts, conservatives don’t even have to. Republicans can suffer huge defections and the Senate bill will still pass, because House Dems will vote for it.
One variation of this endgame is this supposed “doomsday” strategy that’s getting lots of attention today, where Republicans allow a vote on the middle class tax cuts, and all vote “present” so only Dems pass it, allowing the GOP to avoid owning a “tax increase”. This seems worse than the scenario outlined above. Why wouldn’t the GOP leadership — however Tea Partyers vote — want vulnerable Republicans to have the leeway to vote to extend the low end tax cuts, depending on their own political needs?
At any rate, Democrats are growing cautiously optimistic that this endgame is roughly how things will play out.