Defying President Obama's threat to veto a payroll tax extension tied to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, House Speaker John Boehner told colleagues today that the GOP would include the provision anyway. The move sweetens the deal for rank-and-file House Republicans but sets the stage for a high stakes end-of-year clash with President Obama.
The plan Boehner introduced at a closed-door meeting Thursday will roil President Obama for two reasons. The first is the green-lighting of the oil sands pipeline Keystone XL, which environmentalists have been hammering the White House on for months. The second is a provision to do away with the Earned Income Tax Credit payments to undocumented workers, an issue the president has said doesn't belong in the current talks. On Thursday, Boehner defended the pipeline provision, saying it "will put tens of thousands of Americans to work immediately, it has bipartisan support in the House and Senate and as the prime minister of Canada said, this is a no-brainer."
Clearly, it's not a no-brainer for the president who on Wednesday told reporters, "Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject." He added that the payroll tax "is something that House Republicans, as well as Senate Republicans" want, "so it shouldn't be held hostage for any other issues that they may be concerned about."
Unfortunately for congressional staffers looking to leave Washington by the Dec. 16 recess, both sides think they have the stonger hand politically. "Republicans say they’re confident that the pipeline project will both attract votes for the year-end package and corner the president into either moving forward on the pipeline or explaining to the public why the administration is holding up a project that could create tens of thousands of jobs," report Politico's Jonathan Allen and Darren Goode. "Rank-and-file Republicans say the plan is likely to help some in their conference digest the hodgepodge package. And some Democrats may break ranks to vote for it."
The White House, meanwhile, feels that it can focus on the Republicans raising taxes on the middle class and characterize everything else as a distraction. As Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown and Jake Sherman report, "It's irresistible politics ... After three years of battling congressional Republicans to a draw in the messaging wars or outright losing, Obama finally has found a way to gain the upper hand by declaring that the GOP wants to raise taxes on the middle class." As Howard Gleckman at the liberal Urban Institute explains, "It is good politics because everybody gets it. It is hard for me to believe Republicans are still making a fight of this. This is a total political loser for them. President Obama has finally found his voice on this. It is even hard for Democrats to screw this up.”