Winners and losers in payroll showdown

The rollercoaster-like debate on the extension of the payroll-tax holiday yielded political winners and losers on both sides of the aisle.

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The House Republicans’ bold decision to torpedo the bipartisan Senate bill was quickly followed by a full retreat days later.

Democrats are gloating, saying they have changed the dynamics of the 2012 campaign. It is unclear if the payroll-tax debate will resonate next November, but it has given Democrats a boost going into the election year.

The winners and losers of the tax battle follow:

Winners

President Obama
 The Senate deal certainly wasn’t viewed as a win for the White House, especially because of the provisions forcing the president to make a quicker decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But the House GOP’s opposition played into Obama’s hands, fitting neatly into his campaign narrative that he is reasonable and Congress is dysfunctional. Obama had to postpone his vacation trip to Hawaii, but his poll numbers have been on the rise in recent weeks. His use of the bully pulpit has improved dramatically since the summer.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — The 2008 GOP presidential nominee publicly took House Republicans to task, saying their blocking of the Senate measure was hurting the GOP. McCain showed he is an elder statesman of the Republican Party and still influential.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — The payroll-tax debate was a holiday gift for Schumer, the Senate Democrats’ message guru. Schumer knows his party was struggling earlier this year, but says Democrats have gotten back on track. Just a couple of hours after the House GOP caved, Schumer was on MSNBC, crowing that Democrats have gained the upper hand on taxes, a perennial GOP stronghold. The New York Democrat knows the stakes are high as control of the upper chamber is up for grabs in 2012.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) —
 Throughout this year, Pelosi has said the House is in play. Political handicappers don’t quite agree, but the payroll-tax debate has boosted the chances that Democrats will be in control of the lower chamber come January 2013. Many in Pelosi’s caucus did not like the Keystone language, but she and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) rallied the troops, and not one Democrat defected.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) —
 Brown, who is up for reelection in 2012, ripped House Republicans this week on a couple of occasions. In not-so-subtle terms, he claimed the House GOP was “playing politics” with the tax holiday. Democrats countered that Brown was the one playing politics, battering his party only for his self interest. Regardless, the centrist Brown’s move was shrewd as he seeks to defeat Elizabeth Warren, the likely Democratic nominee, next year.

Karl Rove —
 The influential GOP operative and Fox news analyst hasn’t been shy in taking on Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and this week, House Republican leaders. Rove called on House Republicans to throw in the towel, saying they needed to move on. One day later, they did.

Losers

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — Throughout 2011, Boehner has been Houdini-like, escaping from various high-profile spending showdowns. But he took it on the chin on the payroll-tax debate, and scars could linger into 2012. Unable to persuade his conference to go along with the Senate bill, Boehner waged an ineffective campaign to rally public support for the House’s year-long approach. As a result, the never-ending whispers about his Speakership being in jeopardy have gotten louder.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) —
 House Republicans aren’t giving Cantor rave reviews. The tension between Boehner and Cantor was once again on display during the payroll-tax showdown, triggering chatter among the House GOP conference that Cantor is gunning for the Speaker’s job. Cantor has complained that political reporters love to write about the “soap opera” of the House GOP hierarchy, but some Republican members say they are tired of the Boehner-Cantor conflict reemerging every few months.

House GOP freshmen and the Tea Party —
 The Republican majority didn’t like the Senate’s bill, but badly misread the politics. Instead of claiming victory in securing the Keystone XL language, Republicans doubled down and suffered an embarrassing setback. Meanwhile, polls show that the Tea Party’s approval ratings are on the decline. That is not good news for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) —
 Hensarling was a co-chairman of the 12-member supercommittee, which failed to reach a deal on the deficit. Many expected the panel to tackle the payroll-tax extension, which would have taken the issue off the table. Hensarling strongly opposed the two-month solution, saying this week that it would “do more harm than good.”

National Payroll Reporting Consortium —
 Few in the Washington Beltway had heard of this group before it said the Senate bill was unworkable. But the timing of its concerns raised eyebrows. The trade group was silent before the Senate measure passed, but quite loud as the House GOP scrambled for leverage to defeat the bipartisan bill. The Hill reported this week that the coalition of major paycheck firms has GOP ties, as a former George W. Bush administration official was involved in the decision to object to the Senate legislation. One of its other lobbyists used to work for the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mixed

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — McConnell struck what he thought was a good deal, especially after securing the Keystone XL language. Yet, Boehner publicly said the deal was insufficient, and McConnell subsequently went radio-silent for several days. The Boehner-McConnell split is as rare as an eclipse, and it has burned the entire Republican Party because voters don’t differentiate between House and Senate GOP members. But McConnell on Thursday showed his clout by calling on House Republicans to pass the agreement he reached with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Soon thereafter, Boehner backed off.

Mitt Romney — The 2012 White House hopeful, again considered the GOP front-runner, didn’t pick sides in the House-Senate dispute. He also had a decent answer when pressed, saying he was not going to get involved in the sausage-making of legislation. But the GOP’s fumbles helped Obama, and that, in turn, hurts the former Massachusetts governor.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — McCarthy has had hit some rough spots in his rookie year as whip. Yet, there were only seven GOP defections on the vote to move to conference committee and kill the Senate legislation. In a year of mass House Republican defections, seven is an impressive number. But McCarthy, like Cantor, was vocal in his opposition to the Senate bill. And there is more than enough blame to go around for this debacle among House Republican leaders.