The GOP Crackup

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TIMOTHY NOAH DECEMBER 2, 2011

The GOP Crackup

I'm trying hard not to blame myself. How many Republicans even read the New Republic?  But after I wrote that

a.) the GOP payroll-tax cut was something Democrats can and should work with;

and

b.) that same GOP payroll-tax cut made mincemeat of Republicans' own arguments about taxing "job creators"

the Republicans ended up voting against their own counterproposal on the Senate floor. By this I don't mean that an insufficient number of Republicans supported the GOP plan to put it over the top. (That would have been impossible, since no Democrats voted for it.) I mean that an outright majority of Republicans voted against their own plan. Twenty Republicans voted for the plan; 26 voted against, with Sen. John McCain (R., AZ) not voting.

But wait, as the kids say: It gets weird! One of the GOP nays was the second-highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Minority Whip John Kyl, R.-AZ, who I guess is unwilling to back away from his impolitic comment five days ago on Fox News Sunday that "the payroll tax holiday has not stimulated job creation" because only tax cuts for wealthy job creators can achieve that. Which I guess displays a certain kind of stubborn integrity under the twin pressures of common sense and political expediency. Also voting against the GOP proposal were Republican conference chair Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Republican policy committee chair John Thune (R., S.D.). Indeed, the only member of the Senate leadership whom Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-KY, could get to support the "GOP plan" was Republican conference vice-chair Sen. John Barrasso (R., WY). That's gotta hurt.

I might add that the "GOP plan" failed even after Grover Norquist, all-powerful president of Americans For Tax Reform, came out in favor of it. Though subsequently this high priest of the antitax cult, amid much burning of incense and scrutinizing of goat entrails, pronounced to a gathering of trembling GOP supplicants in the House that it is "inaccurate" to "say not continuing a temporary tax cut is an increase." Vote for the GOP proposal; don't vote for the GOP proposal. The shaman is seldom so inscrutable.

We pretty much knew in advance that both the Obama proposal (which extends and expands the existing payroll-tax cut and pays for it with a surtax on millionaires) and the GOP proposal (which merely extends the payroll tax cut and pays for it with, among other things, a surtax on millionaires disguised as a Medicare benefit cut) would fail on the Senate floor. And so they did. After that, I expected the two sides would have little difficulty arriving at a deal. The Democratic plan "failed" by winning a majority vote (we used to call that victory) that was nine votes shy of the 60 necessary to halt the Republicans' de rigeur filibuster. Every Senate Republican voted against the measure save Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. (Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, W.-VA, and Jon Tester, D.-Mont., also voted against. So, bizarrely, did the independent socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats.) The Republican plan failed the old-fashioned way, 78-20, with the aforementioned McCain and also Sen. John Kerry (D.-MA) not voting. 

At this moment the common wisdom appears to be that a deal on the payroll tax remains likely. But now the reason isn't that the two sides are reasonably close, as they seemed yesterday. It's because the Republicans have been made to look so unbelievably pathetic. The deal will be a different deal, very possibly one more favorable to the Democrats. Though the mildly favorable job figures released this morning (unemployment fell from 9 to 8.6 percent) may reduce ever so slightly the sense of urgency, I think the GOP will probably have to do something on payroll taxes (and, one hopes, jobless benefits too) to escape looking like they're incapable of cutting taxes except for the rich. In the meantime, pull up a chair and watch them suffer.

Update, 3 p.m.: I neglected to mention yet another member of the GOP Senate leadership who declined to support the "GOP bill": John Cornyn, R.-TX, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Cornyn is mentioned in an excellent Politico story about McConnell's humiliation by Scott Wong and Manu Raju.

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posted in: timothy noah, john kyl, john mccain, mitch mcconnell, republican party, senate, united states senate

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