In a Bloomberg interview airing this Sunday, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) — chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign committee — says he thinks cutting the payroll tax for another year is a terrible idea, but one that he can support if paired with enough other goodies.
“I didn’t change my mind,” Sessions told host Al Hunt. “It is a bad idea. But when you combine that with something else - for instance, when we voted the extension of the tax cuts - when you mirror that with something that’s a job stimulus, an economic growth package, then it’s a good deal.”
Sessions gets a bit more specific, suggesting that the Keystone pipeline or similar measures will be required to get his vote.
HUNT: I mean, what’s the bottom line? Not what you - you know, you desire, but what’s the bottom line?
SESSIONS: Job growth. How about Keystone pipeline?
HUNT: So you won’t support anything that doesn’t have Keystone pipeline in it?
SESSIONS: I won’t support something that does not show job growth and the development.
This hints at a dynamic that’s been largely missed in this debate.
Though top GOP leaders went from being on the fence about the payroll tax cut to being fully supportive of it several weeks ago, many, many rank and file members have been, at best, skeptical of the idea all along.
This played out in dramatic fashion a couple weeks ago when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lost more than half his caucus in a vote on a partisan GOP version of the payroll tax cut he had authored. The outcome stunned onlookers, particularly because McConnell can typically control his caucus better than any of the other leaders on the Hill. Most people concluded that that, either out of insouciance to the middle class or antipathy to President Obama or genuine policy disagreement, Republicans simply didn’t care if the payroll tax cut expired.
But it doesn’t really matter why they voted no, or whether McConnell got embarrassed by his members. The effect was to turn the payroll tax cut into something Republicans would only be able to sign off on reluctantly — and at a steep price. In other words, after they’d accepted that allowing it to lapse would turn into a political catastrophe, they turned it into a bargaining chip instead of a direct concession. That’s why they now have leverage, and can make steep demands in these last minute negotiations.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.