Posted Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011, at 4:50 PM
Rep. Sean Duffy was the first to tell his fellow Republicans to suck it up and pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday. Rep. Rick Crawford was next. Amusingly -- thanks to NBC's Frank Thorp for this -- Crawford left a trail on his website to make it really, really clear that he was caving.
We may be done watching freshman Republicans squirm. At 5 p.m., House Republicans will conference in to get the details of a new plan: Punt. Allow the 2-month Senate bill to be passed by unanimous consent, with a few changes. (Most Republicans are home in their districts, but the members appointed to a still-nascent conference committee are here, and the House is in pro forma session.) The essentials of the original Senate bill were... well, there weren't many. There was an expedited decision on Keystone XL, but otherwise, few bells, few whistles.
I will leave it to the very good Hill reporters to tell the long narrative of how Republicans caved. A few days ago, they were quoting Braveheart in caucus, promising not to compromise. They compromised. Time to revisit Kevin Drum's analysis of why I was wrong when I said the GOP would win the long game.
[N]o huge consequences for holding out; weakness and panic on the Republican side; and public (and press) opinion very clearly on the Democratic side for the first time in a while. This is the best chance Democrats have had all year to stand firm and actually profit from it. That's why I think they will.
I agree: They won the showdown. I didn't run the right plays and realize how badly Republicans had given up the optics -- for example, letting most members go home meant they couldn't effectively knock senators for "going on vacation."
But what's the long, long game? Two months ago, the assumption was that a payroll tax holiday would be extended for a year with few conditions. Republicans failed to extend it with maximal conditions -- unemployment insurance reform, etc. They instead will extend it for two months, with one condition, and demand more at the end of February in exchange for another extender. It was ugly, and they might have won more if they'd just spiked the ball a week ago. But they didn't have a chance this time to get all of their demands. They get one of their demands, and another chance. They'll have to eat some "Republicans in disarray" headlines for a few days, but reporters are heading home and offline, too. Democrats won the immediate fight. Republicans didn't lose too much in the war.