by Michael Smerconish
When the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal takes a shot at House Republicans on a matter of tax policy, you know there's a seismic shift underway in Washington. But that's what Wednesday's paper delivered, under the headline, "The GOP's Payroll Tax Fiasco: How did Republicans manage to lose the tax issue to Obama?" Said the Journal: "The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play."
Superficially then, this is about whether the payroll tax will be extended for two months. Two months?
Not really. This has much more to do with the continued recalcitrance of House Republicans, whose primary objective is to oppose whatever President Obama wants. Their obstinacy is so pronounced that even when he takes a page out of their playbook, a tax cut, their visceral reaction is to oppose it - just because he proposed it!
This is about the personal, not the policy. The Journal itself reminded readers that over in the Senate, leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this year that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. At least he was honest. Think about that. Following the Republican Party's huge gains in 2010, his top stated priority was not to create jobs. Not to reign in the debt. Not to end two wars with honor. No, his main task has been to focus on thwarting President's re-election.
In this regard, he is only parroting any number of pundits who seem to give the marching orders. Some openly hope for the president to fail. Another called him a racist. And ironically, this venom gets spewed amongst like-minded critics who congratulate one another on their respective patriotism.
There is a constituency for this anger. It represents a small but loyal core of the party. The type of voters who have shifted from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Newt, looking for a pugilist - not just a political opponent - to step into the ring with the President next year. Wondering why Mitt Romney is a leading GOP candidate but cannot close the deal? It's because he has heretofore been unwilling to knee the President in the groin in a manner demanded by this crowd. The same crowd to which the House GOP is responding by fighting over a two month extension of a payroll tax cut.
But something interesting has happened along the way. While the "stop Obama at any cost" mentality has gripped the GOP-controlled House, congressional approval numbers have tanked - down to 11 percent. Meanwhile, the president's numbers have gone up.
And the Wall Street Journal today recommended that the Republicans "would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation."
That's good immediate advice. But how about something more bold? Like putting the country first in the New Year. Sadly, that's a resolution that would last about as long as my annual vow to lose weight.