A surrender to reality

    Good things apparently come in threes: A mild winter, a nascent spring training season, and a major Republican surrender.The latter item is indeed a doozy. Having finally realized that their knee-jerk obstructionism has badly damaged their party brand, and having finally recognized that President Obama has the upper hand on an issue near and dear to working Americans, House GOP leaders caved to reality this week. They bowed to Obama’s demand that a two-point cut in the payroll tax be extended through the rest of the year. Most importantly, they bowed to his demand that this tax cut for 160 million working Americans (which puts roughly $1000 in each person’s pocket) be extended with no strings attached. Until this week, Republicans had insisted on strings – they had argued that the tax cut should be matched with fresh spending cuts in domestic programs – but no longer.Thanks to the GOP surrender, it appears that lawmakers have broken the protracted logjam that threatened to (a) kill the current payroll tax cut on its Feb. 29 expiration date, (b) kill a much-needed extension of federal unemployment benefits, and (c) kill much-needed financial aid for doctors who treat Medicare patients. Barring an eleventh-hour outbreak of dysfunctional behavior, all those matters will soon be resolved. Amazing.House Republican leaders even caved on (b). Originally, they wanted to cap jobless benefits at 59 weeks and allow states to administer drug tests to jobless people. But perhaps having realized that middle-class people laid off from their jobs might find it a tad insulting to be smeared as shiftless junkies, Republicans have shelved the drug plank and accepted a benefit extension that maxes out at 73 weeks – with no strings attached.A lot of the tea-partying House members won’t like the tentative deal, and they won’t vote for it. But it will likely pass – probably on Friday – with massive Democratic support and a sufficient share of Republicans. Which, by itself, will signal yet again that the tea party movement is far less powerful in 2012 than its hype in 2010.Basically, if you’ll permit me a cliche, Obama had the Republicans over a barrel. He’s on the political ascent; they are not. And, on the payroll tax cut issue, he had the wind at his back. GOP leaders can read the polls, after all.If they had blocked the payroll tax cut and allowed it to expire at the end of the month, they would have undermined their own cherished image as tax-cutters, allowed Obama to tout himself as the champion of working Americans, and made it even easier for Obama to paint them as toadies for the rich. (After all, the GOP had never insisted that the Bush tax cuts for the rich be matched with spending cuts in domestic programs.)Remember, the House GOP already damaged itself last December, when it nixed a two-month payroll tax cut extension deal – before caving under pressure. Fresh obstructionism, especially at a time when Obama is beating all prospective Republican challengers in the polls, would have been politically nuts. As Republican strategist David Marin reportedly said the other day. “The costs of repeating December’s debacle are simply too high as we move deeper into this election year. (Speaker John Boehner) decided he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Sure, this steps on the GOP message a bit. But it’s nowhere near as damaging as being seen as obstructing tax cuts for middle-class Americans.”Yup, it’s dumb politics to oppose tax breaks for regular folks. It’s smart politics to put more money into workers’ pockets so that they can pump more consumer spending into the incrementally bullish economy. No doubt the Republicans are gnashing their teeth over all this, because the last thing they want is for things to get better while Obama is running for re-election. But if they obstruct, they lose. And if they don’t obstruct, they may still lose – because it’s the incumbent who stands to reap the political rewards of any deal that aids working and jobless Americans.Surely there must be some way for the out-foxed GOP to change the subject and bang on Obama. Don’t the Catholic bishops have anything new they can say about birth control?——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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