John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Victory for Obama?

Posted on February 17, 2012


The headline in National Journal Daily was pretty clear:  “Payroll Deal Hands Victory to Obama.”

On the merits, it seems like a no-brainer.  The President asked for and received an extension of the payroll tax cut, reimbursement for Medicare doctors and unemployment benefits.

It seems like a complete victory.  But was it really a victory for this President?

After all, everybody in town knew that these items were all going to get done.  In an election year, when unemployment is still hovering around 8.5 percent, no politician in his right mind was going to vote to deny unemployment benefits to the unemployed or raise taxes on  people who are working.

And in an election year, the doctors were going to escape the budget axe.

That is just the way it is.

The Democrats wanted to force this to another showdown.  They wanted to paint the Republicans as extreme.  They wanted to create a crisis and then blame John Boehner and Eric Cantor and all the rest of them.

But Boehner and his leadership team didn’t let them.

They made a daring (if long over-due) gambit when they said they would extend the payroll tax benefits without paying for them.   For the budget-conscious, this was bad politics.  But for those who believe that the best way for the budget to get balanced is to avoid a political blood-bath for the Republicans (and that would be me), Republicans put themselves in an awful box when they said they were going to pay for the tax cut.

Republicans never pay for tax cuts.   Tax cuts are supposed to pay for themselves by spurring economic growth.  That has been the theory for close to 30 years, and while it might have questionable value, now was not the time to all of a sudden get religion.

The reason?  Finding offsets for the 100 billion or so that it costs to pay for the payroll tax cut is awfully hard.  Especially if you aren’t going after entitlement spending.  And the President wasn’t going to allow that to happen.

So, by conceding the point on offsetting payroll taxes, and by threatening to bring a stand-alone payroll tax bill to the floor, the House Republicans shocked the Senate Democrats into action.

Senator Majority Leader Reid wasn’t going to be left holding the bag on a stand-alone payroll tax measure coming over from the House.  Reid has tried his best to avoid tough votes in the Upper Chamber, and having this stink bomb come his way would hav screwed up his Senate Schedule.

So Reid told his team to start negotiating post-haste, and a deal was cut in a jiffy.

The old Armey axiom that the pain was inevitable but the suffering was optional came alive in this Boehner gambit.

Republicans might not love the policy that is included in this agreement, but they were going to do it anyway.

By taking the bludgeon out of the hands of the President, Mr. Boehner and his team are the real winners in this latest skirmish.

Remember, George Washington won many of his earliest battles by not getting crushed by the overwhelming force of the British Empire.