A now-familiar theme is playing out today in Washington. A grand bargain worked out between leaders from both parties gains significant steam and heads for passage, only to careen off the rails at the last minute when far-right members of the House of Representatives lay down on the tracks. So why does this keep happening?
On Saturday morning, the Senate passed a bill that would extend a payroll tax cut and federal unemployment insurance for two more months, while preventing doctors from losing over a quarter of their annual Medicare payments. It also contained a Republican provision to force President Obama to issue a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within sixty days.
Democrats wanted more—they originally asked for a year-long payroll tax cut, at a lower rate, and paid for with a surtax on incomes over $1 million. And even if the Keystone provision could kill the project, as the Obama administration is now signaling, Democrats didn’t want that in there, either.
But the deal was made, and eighty-nine Senators–including thirty-nine Republicans and Tea Party stalwarts like Senator Marco Rubio–voted for it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was seen high-fiving fellow Republicans after the vote, and House Speaker John Boehner, who had been a party to the compromise bill all the way, called the bill a “good deal” and a “victory” on Saturday morning. The payroll tax cut would save families an average of $1,000 next year, and every dollar spent on unemployment insurance increases the annual GDP by $1.61.
Later that day, Boehner took it to his members, urging them on a conference call to pass it. It wasn’t pretty.
“I never heard words like ‘sucks’ and ‘crap’ in a GOP Conference,” one member told Fox News’s Chad Pergram afterwards. “Everyone sounded angry.”
A leader of the Tea Party in the House, Florida Representative Allen West (seen earlier in the week comparing Democrats to Joseph Goebbels), blasted the deal as “liberal Democrat incrementalism.” Twenty-four hours and 180 degrees later, Boehner was on Meet the Press saying the bill wouldn’t pass the House.
Already, four Republican Senators (each of them up for re-election in 2012, I would note) have blasted House Republicans for not passing the bill. But the rank-and-file there—which contains sixty members elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010—isn’t listening. They will probably defeat the Senate bill late today.