GOP in 
panic mode

Republicans will surely enjoy the latest poll results placing President Obama’s approval at a record low for any president at this point in his term in the modern, polled era. But the comfort they will take in Obama’s new achievement, considering all else, is stone-cold.

It has been a year since the GOP’s historic victory in the midterm elections, which produced the largest majority in half a century — and the voters aren’t impressed. Congressional Republicans only wish they had Obama’s approval ratings — their own have fallen more than 20 points since they were sworn in last January. What Americans remember most from the first year of GOP control of the House is a near-shutdown of the government in April, a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration in August, near-default on debt in August and the failure of the secret supercommittee in November.

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It’s so bad, even some Republicans have realized it. Privately, some have expressed concern bordering on panic. Republicans are now scrambling to find a unified response to Obama’s request that Congress extend a payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance set to expire at the end of this month. First they were opposed to extending the payroll-tax cut, arguing that the money is often saved instead of spent and doesn’t promote hiring or growth. But wait, they signed pledges promising to support any tax cut they ever saw, and to impale themselves on a fence before they voted for a tax increase. So, says Obama, vote against the extension and raise the average middle-class family’s taxes by more than $1,000. Well, in that case, now they’re for extending the cut. They just haven’t figured out how to pay for it.

Unemployment insurance (UI) is wholly unpopular with conservatives, as they argue it also fails to produce jobs and likely leads to longer stretches of unemployment. That isn’t a popular stance to take at Christmastime, so they’re pretty much keeping it quiet. In the end, they know they will have to extend it. No, they haven’t figured out how to pay for that, either. 

Another sticking point will be the nearly 30 percent cut in payments to doctors serving Medicare patients set to take effect as well, should Congress not act to stop the cuts, as it has repeatedly for years. It’s hard to keep using deficit spending to avoid cutting Medicare and actually fixing the payment formula, but hey — cutting is hard, and who wants to actually reform Medicare?

Democrats say they have a plan to pay for all of this — tax millionaires. Republicans won’t raise taxes on millionaires, because they say they are job creators and the country desperately needs jobs. Speaking of jobs, Republicans want to get the payroll and UI fight, along with the bloody annual budget fight, out of the way so they can start talking about jobs again. House Republicans have passed numerous jobs bills that are languishing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, including regulatory relief, trade agreements and proposals to speed lending, offshore leasing and the immigration of high-skilled workers. Unfortunately, the public is hardly aware of them. Perhaps they should have done a better job of marketing them, with a catchy slogan such as “No, pass this jobs bill now.”

Many Republicans are hoping that once they have a nominee to run against Obama they can coordinate a strong, pro-growth message that will put the party back in the White House. But that could take more time than Republicans have to convince swing voters they can govern. Just because Obama is failing doesn’t mean Republicans are winning.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.