Why would the White House promise to torpedo legislation that achieves an outcome for which the president has been lobbying hard? Stay tuned for the answer, but first, some context. Remember President Downgrade's demagoguelicious payroll tax performance last week? Allow me to refresh your memories:
And just in case the media didn't internalize the White House's narrative, Obama's press shop posted a running clock, counting down to the exact moment the middle class tax hike would kick in. The message was clear: "Unless the you-know-who's in Congress intervene to extend the temporary cut, it'll disappear, impacting 160 million workers." As I wrote then, Obama had painted the GOP into a uncomfortable political box. They could either (a) vote to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits -- expensive endeavors with negligible economic impact, or (b) oppose Obama, and project an indifference about middle class tax increases, even while fighting to prevent hikes on income earners. The former course would be costly and inefficient. The latter option would be political suicide.
So tonight, the Republican House of Representatives gave President Obama what he wanted. Sort of. Ten Democrats joined most Republicans in passing a measure that prolongs the president's temporary payroll tax cut for one year and extends unemployment benefits (while reforming the process) -- without raising taxes on anyone. The final vote was 234-193. To offset the costs of these expenditures, the House version eschews Democrats' preferred "surtax" on
job-creating millionaires unicorns, and replaces it with spending cuts and reductions in entitlement benefits to the wealthiest Americans. According to Speaker Boehner, 90 percent of the cuts are derived from the president's own proposals, including a federal pay freeze. The bill also approves the 'Keystone XL' energy pipeline project, which is supported by dozens of Democrats and is projected to create thousands of American jobs. The Solyndra "green energy" crowd vehemently opposes this idea, natch, so Obama is singing their tune. He mustn't cross the base in an election year, no sir -- even if it means blocking job creation. Democrats say the issue needs more "study," even though it's already endured a three year review process. Hey, it's not like unemployment is a major issue these days, or anything.
Which brings us to the veto threat. Even though the bill fulfills the president's supposed top legislative priority, averting what he's called an "unacceptable" tax increase on the middle class, he still won't support it for two primary reasons. First, it doesn't raise taxes on "the rich," which has become something of a religious obsession on the Left. Second, it angers environmentalists. Can't have that. So even though the Party of No is handing the president most of what he wants, he still can't say yes -- not that he'll actually wield the veto pen. Senate Democrats will see to it that he doesn't have to:
"The Senate will not pass it," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said shortly after the House vote.
This was a smart play by the GOP. They've relented on the two politically precarious issues Democrats have been hammering (payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits), turning the tables in the process. If the middle class cut tax cut doesn't get extended before the deadline, it'll be because Democrats in the Senate and White House have prioritized tax increases on job creators and appeasing the green lobby above all else. Have fun explaining that logic, champs. Incidentally, we've seen this movie before: Republicans putting concrete solutions on the table (Paul Ryan's budget, cut/cap/balance, the Super Committee, etc) with Democrats loudly opposing their every move, without passing -- or even introducing -- specific plans of their own. I'll leave you with Boehner twisting the knife by ostentatiously revising the White House's own countdown clock:
Partisan showmanship? Sure, but they're simply throwing the Democrats' no-longer-operative gimmick right back in their faces. Well played.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography