On Sunday, the good cop:
The House Republican leader, John A. Boehner, on Sunday opened the door to a compromise on the contentious issue of the Bush-era tax cuts, saying he would vote to maintain lower rates for families earning less than $250,000 even if President Obama and Democrats insisted on ending the cuts for wealthier Americans. ... “If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for them,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS, during which the host, Bob Schieffer, pointedly asked whether Republicans would hold the tax breaks for most Americans “hostage” to keep the lower rates for the wealthy.
On Monday, the bad cop:
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans will oppose any effort to renew soon-to-expire Bush administration tax cuts if upper income taxpayers are excluded from the reductions.
A spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell says the Kentucky Republican has pledges from every Senate Republican to filibuster President Barack Obama's plan to allow the top income tax rate to rise back to almost 40 percent on family or small business income over $250,000.
If Republicans stand together, that would deny Democrats the 60 votes they would need to push the measure through the Senate.
Just Sunday, House GOP Leader John Boehner said he would support renewing tax cuts for the middle class but not the wealthy if that was his only choice.
No doubt Boehner and McConnell think they are pulling off a really cute political trick, but their little good cop, bad cop routine is too cute by half. Fundamentally, Republicans in Congress have a substantive problem: if they hold middle-class tax cuts hostage as a bargaining chip for a permanent extension of Bush's tax cuts, they'll be punished by moderate voters, but if they cave to Democrats, they'll be punished by their base.
As Republicans try to spin their way out of their dilemma, Democrats should respond by pushing straight ahead, starting by calling Boehner's bluff and scheduling a straight up-or-down vote on middle-class tax cuts. As an olive branch, they should also agree to a separate debate and vote on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That way Republicans cannot claim that Democrats blocked consideration of a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Republicans desperately want to link Obama's tax cuts for the middle-class with Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, but they are two separate issues. As long as Democrats continue treating them as such, this is a debate that they cannot lose.
Update (12:10pm PT): McConnell's office now denies making the hostage threat.