Had Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, slammed himself over the head with a frying pan on the House floor, he would have done more for the Republican cause than what transpired Tuesday. The convoluted GOP response to the Senate's payroll tax-cut extension hands Democrats a truckload of skillets with which to smack Republicans until Nov. 2012.
The good news is that two words can rescue Republicans from this fine mess.
Boehner fundamentally is correct: While a one-year tax cut provides limited relief, the Senate's two-month tax cut is beyond silly. It merely schedules yet another tiresome House-Senate showdown. ZZZZZzzzz.
But Boehner's ham-handed response is potentially catastrophic for GOP electoral prospects.
As I advised Monday on NationalReview.com, Boehner should have deleted the Senate bill's end date, "February 29," 2012, and inserted "December 31." Period. Otherwise, it should have remained intact.
This simple amendment would have forced President Barack Obama to credit Republicans for giving him what he wanted. "It would be inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle-class tax cut for the rest of the year," Obama said Dec. 17. If Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and his colleagues then defied Obama and let a middle-class tax cut languish, that would be their hole to dig.
This two-word amendment would shield Republicans from the "do-nothing" label that Obama hopes will stick. If Senate Democrats did nothing, this would expose them as the obstructionists who have scuttled or ignored at least 15 GOP House initiatives to energize the economy and encourage job creation.
Making the Senate bill a one-year measure also would preserve language to compel Obama to decide on the Keystone XL Pipeline within 60 days and, thus, choose between unionists (who favor the pipeline) or environmentalists (who hate it).
Rather than accomplish these objectives with a two-word amendment, however, Boehner has created a migraine that could become a malignancy.
Boehner led the GOP House into a scheme whereby they dispatched Republicans to a conference committee to negotiate a better deal with senators. One problem: Harry Reid refuses to name any Senate negotiators. Even if Reid cooperated, Senate Democrats would battle to resurrect a tax on millionaires, delete the Keystone provision, and promote other liberal priorities.
Democrats and their media allies now will hammer Republicans for a "middle-class tax increase." Some 160 million Americans will see their taxes rise by $1,000 on Jan. 1. Having squandered its budget-cutting qualifications during the fiscally un-toilet-trained Bush-Rove administration, the GOP now will watch its tax-cutting credentials get shredded. Even worse, Democrats will argue that Republicans spent Dec. 2010 extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts "for the rich," and then devoted Dec. 2011 to sinking a tax cut for the middle class.
Some 2.5 million unemployed Americans will see their benefits lapse on Jan. 1. On New Year's Day, doctors will suffer a 27 percent reduction in payments for seeing Medicare patients. Seniors will find it harder, not easier, to identify physicians willing to treat them.
Republicans will take the blame for letting legislation gather dust that addressed these matters.
Democrats must be drooling. Republicans soon will find themselves on the wrong side of middle-class taxpayers, the unemployed, and senior citizens. The left and Occupy Wall Street will holler about this all year long. And Republican candidates — from presidential, to congressional, to state-level nominees — will be in jeopardy.
All of this needlessly reinforces every stereotype of Republicans as cold, cruel, and concerned only for the wealthy.
It would be far better for Republicans to put Barack Obama and Harry Reid at loggerheads and force Obama to choose between unions and environmentalists regarding the Keystone XL pipeline.
Boehner can do this by abandoning the contraption that he has created, reconvening the House and sending the Democratic Senate its own bill with a simple, two-word change. And to that lightly amended measure, Boehner should attach a card that reads: "Your move, Harry."
Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock@gmail.com.
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