Over the weekend I bemoaned news that the Senate and the Administration had waived their opposition to an extension of payroll tax cuts tied to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Only days earlier, Senator Reid had declared the House bill “dead on arrival” while the president threatened to veto it. As has been the case too often, they drew a line in the sand only to fold their hands and approve a watered-down compromise, in this case a payroll tax cut extension tied to fast-tracking the decision on the Keystone pipeline. In a rare show of unity, 89 senators voted to pass the bill. Senator Reid promptly recessed the Senate in light of all the bipartisan triangulation that had smoothed the way for passage in the House.
Too good to be true. The next morning, Meet the Press hosted spoiler John Boehner, who announced that the GOP caucus didn’t support the Senate bill. Washington defaulted to gridlock as the Speaker and Majority Leader Eric “Gepetto” Cantor rambled on with their hollow aphorisms about kicking cans down the road and uncertainty. Senator Reid made clear that he had no intention to call the Senate back from its recess to compromise the already-compromised legislation.
Let’s be clear. Boehner and Cantor’s antics have nothing in the world to do with payroll tax cuts, kicking any cans down the road or that uncertainty myth. It is those feral cats running rabid in the GOP House caucus, that collection of ideological suicide bombers that once again have a stranglehold on the People’s business.
Tuesday afternoon Mr. Boehner presided over a news conference at which he pulled out every unintelligible legislative maneuver he could to thwart a straight up or down vote in the House. Meanwhile the Wolf Blitzers of the world lent currency to the nonsensical notion that there really is something to be negotiated, hoping to lather up CNN’s dwindling audience. CNN’s cameras cut from one press conference to another, all meticuously parsed by political pundits as if the fate of the western world were hanging in the balance. More drama awaits tonight’s audiences on FOX and MSNBC. Advertisers pay dearly for hyped-up political events that can be leveraged into rating points.
But it need’t be so. There’s nothing for the cable networks to hype when nobody’s listening. Speaker Boehner’s attempt to concoct a narrative about some compromise of a compromise depends on who’s listening. And that’s where the president and Senator Reid have an opportunity to play the spoilers. It will require a discipline that does not come naturally to many politicians.
Senator Reid: go home. No press conferences. Just smile and wave as you walk out the Capitol to catch your flight to Nevada. Mr. President, ignore your advisors. For God’s sake don’t hold another press conference. There’s nothing to spin, nothing to negotiate. Your position is crystal clear and you needn’t step on your message. You’ve got the high ground. Have a beer, watch a hoops game and lay low in the White House. Send the First Lady and the girls to Hawaii. Let Jay Carney and the White House press office represent you publicly. It’s just business as usual for you in what should be a slow Holiday season.
Leave Messrs. Boehner, Cantor and their playmates alone in their sandbox. As long as they’re explaining they’re losing. So Ignore them. Nobody will listen to them in short order. Eventually they will fold their tents and go home. They and their caucus are going to have a lot of explaining to do.
Caveat: the only way Boehner and Cantor can elevate their Play-Doh politics to relevancy is if either you or Senator Reid provide them with a foil.