The Washington Post

Can the House GOP retreat in the payroll tax fight?

Indeed, the House GOP has no standing for its current position because many in the House leadership originally expressed skepticism about the tax holiday. How can they go from suggesting the payroll tax holiday is a bad idea to being the champions of the president’s view that a one-year extension is absolutely necessary? If they actually contrived to look as political — in the narrow and unattractive sense — as possible, they couldn’t have done better than this. Maybe the Journal underestimates the GOP leadership: It may have hit into a triple play.

The Journal’s editorial page wisely counsels Republicans “to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll tax quickly.” But how? With the Journal’s backing, perhaps Boehner can now persuade his colleagues what he tried to convince them of in the first place: Let this holiday go through, with mostly Democratic votes if necessary, and then pledge to fight hard in two months for — well, for whatever the right wing of his caucus tells him to. Maybe Obama can ease the way by promising negotiations in January, which wouldn’t change anything but could be a fig leaf. The one thing Obama cannot do is yield and make new substantive concessions now. This would undermine the very image of strength he has been building since September, after the debt-ceiling fiasco, which weakened the Republicans but also weakened him. He’s come back in the polls by standing up to the GOP right. If even the Wall Street Journal editorial page concedes that the Democrats occupy the political high ground, maybe even the most skittish in the GOP’s ranks will start believing it.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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