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Boehner’s brinksmanship

Posted Dec. 21, 2011, at 5:48 p.m.

It’s only fitting that House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, would close the year with one more act of brinksmanship. Boehner announced Sunday that he opposed the bipartisan deal in the Senate on a stopgap extension of soon-to-expire payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits and Medicare payment rates for physicians — a deal that he reportedly urged his caucus to accept, only to have other members of his leadership team oppose it. The Senate proposal was far from perfect, but it gave the House GOP a clear win on what supposedly was its top priority: the Keystone XL pipeline project. By not accepting the deal, House Republicans show again that they’re unable or unwilling to stop moving the goal posts.

Leaders in both chambers have said that they want to keep the temporary payroll tax cut in place for another year, and that they back the provisions on Medicare and unemployment insurance as well. The problem for Boehner is that many of the members of his GOP caucus don’t agree.

Senate negotiators agreed on a way to raise enough money to extend the expiring provisions for two months. That’s not enough, and Boehner was right when he said it’s lousy policy to extend a tax cut for only a few weeks. But it would buy time for lawmakers to come up with an alternative both parties can accept, while keeping the pressure on them to do so.

The compromise measure would also require the administration to approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, as sought by the House GOP. It also would pay for the extended tax cuts and spending increases in part by forcing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to gradually raise the fee they charge lenders to guarantee mortgages. Those fees are artificially low, giving the government-backed companies an advantage over competitors that aren’t supported by Washington. Raising the fees is an important step toward reducing Fannie and Freddie’s dominance, as well as the risk faced by taxpayers — two goals championed by the House GOP.

Considering how incapable Congress has been this year of smart long-term policymaking, Boehner’s complaints about the short-term nature of the deal ring hollow, especially in light of the concessions the GOP won on the pipeline. His caucus seems addicted to crises, so it should come as no surprise that it would gin up another one instead of adjourning for the holidays. Ultimately, lawmakers should slog through the tough negotiations needed to renew the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits for a full year. In the meantime, it makes sense to enact a stopgap measure to make sure the provisions don’t lapse. Boehner should bring the Senate bill to the floor, and House members should approve it and go home.

Los Angeles Times (Dec. 20)

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