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Eugene Robinson
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Sunday 25 December 2011
“The measure that House Republicans were so reluctant to pass, or even vote on, was crafted as a step toward the specific outcome that House Republicans claimed was their goal.”

The GOP’s Slip is Showing

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Finally. After a year of artful camouflage and concealment, Republicans let us glimpse the rift between establishment pragmatists and Tea Party ideologues. There may be hope for the republic after all.

Forty Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), joined Democrats in voting for compromise legislation providing a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut. The bill passed 89 to 10, the kind of margin usually reserved for ceremonial resolutions in favor of motherhood. Senators clearly were confident that House approval would quickly follow.

But it didn’t, because Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) couldn’t get his Tea Party freshmen to go along. The result was a kind of intramural sniping among Republicans that we ­haven’t seen in years.

“It angers me that House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions,” said Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

The stalemate “is harming the Republican Party,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“Are Republicans getting killed now in public opinion? There’s no question,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who urged House Republicans to just “get it over with.”

But Boehner hung tough, not out of principle but because he had no palatable choice. He didn’t dare bring the Senate bill to the floor for a vote, fearing that non-Tea Party members of the GOP caucus might defect. So he did nothing for four long days — and let the Republican Party be portrayed as so out-to-lunch that it would blithely raise taxes on 160 million Americans. The week before Christmas. As we roll into an election year.

The thing is, this portrayal is quite accurate, at least as it pertains to the Tea Party faction. More sensible Republicans have been so eager to take advantage of the Tea Party’s energy and emotion that they have essentially allowed the inmates to run the asylum. You will recall that it was the GOP, led by the Tea Party types, that threatened to send the Treasury into default last summer rather than approve a routine and necessary increase in the debt ceiling.

In the current imbroglio, nothing resembling a principle was involved. Boehner said that House Republicans wanted to extend the payroll tax cut for an entire year, rather than just two months. But even if you accept his claim at face value, it ignores the fact that the two-month deal was approved by the Senate for one reason only: to allow time for negotiation of a one-year extension.

In other words, the measure that House Republicans were so reluctant to pass, or even vote on, was crafted as a step toward the specific outcome that House Republicans claimed was their goal.

Boehner’s calls for compromise were absurd. The Senate bill was itself a bipartisan compromise, reached after tough bargaining and many concessions. Democrats abandoned their proposal for an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $1 million a year. President Obama accepted a rider forcing him to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project before the November election. Republicans had already won the negotiation — until zealots in the House threatened to scuttle the whole thing.

McConnell maintained a steely silence until Thursday, then built a ladder for Boehner to climb down. He proposed that the House promptly enact a “short-term” extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance while working on a one-year measure. Within hours, the House caved.

This glimpse of honest debate among Republicans won’t last long, I predict. They’ll try their best to resume the practice of absolute anti-Obama unity, which has worked quite well for them. But no one can erase what voters have seen this week, and it wasn’t pretty.

There are only two possible reasons for House Republicans to behave the way they did. Maybe they are so blinded by ideology that they no longer care about the impact their actions might have on struggling American families. Or maybe their only guiding principle is that anything Obama supports, they oppose.

The week’s events offer a lesson for Obama, too. One reason for all the Republican angst was that public opinion has become more sensitive to issues of economic justice. This may be partly due to the Occupy protests. But I’m convinced that Obama’s fiery barnstorming in favor of his American Jobs Act has played a big role. People are hearing his message.

The president has been on the offensive. It’s no coincidence that, for the first time in quite a while, Republicans are backing up.

© , Washington Post Writers Group


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ABOUT Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section. He started writing a column for the Op-Ed page in 2005. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “his eloquent columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president, showcasing graceful writing and grasp of the larger historic picture.” Robinson is the author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America” (2010), “Last Dance in Havana” (2004), and “Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race” (1999). He lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.

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I could read a book about

I could read a book about this wtiuhot finding such real-world approaches!

American voters that I know

American voters that I know are tired of both parties, and although this latest incident came slightly down in favor of the Democrats, there is little to cheer in the long term. The President's insistence on certain provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act allowing American Citizens to be detained and transported without trial by the military to nearly anywhere on earth, along with the continuation of the Patriot Act, has badly tarnished the "change we can believe in" brand.

The Republicans have put up a group of candidates whose policy positions, if you can call their ever fluctuating pronouncements policy, are the antithesis of good governance and sane tax policy. The President has spent the last few years trying to mollify Republicans who would like nothing better than that he would drop dead, instead of calling them out for what they are, a group of whining would be autocrats with a paucity of ideas who make bad decisions. Add to this the problems generated by his corporatist cabinet and an, until now, do nothing Attorney General, and you have someone who no longer inspires much confidence even among die hard Democrats. On top of all this, there was the Fast and Furious debacle which has infuriated the gun rights advocates who always vote and who represent as much as 65-80 million voting age adults.

Mr. Obama further erred when he did not offer more than a sidelong glance at the Occupy Movement. This after campaigning on the promise to "march with you" when speaking about groups who would demand change. This denial of comfort by the President smacks of Bush the Elder's failure to support Iraqi insurgents who first were promised they would be supported in their attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, but who then were left to be crushed by his army. The Occupy people could certainly use some timely encouragement as they are being systematically brutalized and outmaneuvered by police forces with the help of Homeland Security.

So now the American voter is left with this choice: Vote for the incumbent President who looks like he will, by the powers he allowed to come into being under his watch, by back door measures eliminate Second Amendment rights and possibly use the Army to collect citizens and their means of resistance. Or on the other hand, vote for any of the clownish dolts the Republicans might put up who are equally untrustworthy on the Bill of Rights, and who are even more in the pocket of an increasingly smaller but richer percentage of the population.

What a choice! If there was ever a time when a viable alternative was needed to break this quandary it is now.

Still... Mr. Obama could save his Presidency and get the vote out if he would fire almost his entire cabinet, apologize for the Fast and Furious insult to gun owners and disavow its Constitutional ramifications, explain just what he was thinking by signing the execrable National Defense Authorization Act, and put people in his new cabinet that respected the entire Bill of Rights and were not wholly owned subsidiaries of Wall Street or K Street. He might then win re-election, but even then it will be close. One more misstep on such a scale as he has committed thus far and we will be calling someone else Mr. President a year and a few days from now.

To All the juvenile

To All the juvenile TEAlinquents who trashed the Houseand the Senate Sons of Mitches---------We wish you a Perry XmasWe wish you a Perry XmasWe wish you a Perry Xmasand a sappy Newt year!

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