Is the GOP in damage-control mode on the payroll tax? Dana Milbank Live

Dec 22, 2011

Dana Milbank chatted about his latest columns and more.

Dana Milbank Live is your weekly opportunity for a give and take with Dana centering on the latest political news in Washington and his recent columns.

Good afternoon, readers.

I'm profoundly grateful to John Boehner and his House Republican Caucus for salvaging what otherwise would have been a slow pre-holiday week.  What's on your mind?

Then I guess my only question is who is playing the part of the King's Executioner? Because if I remember correctly, William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered, castrated, eviscerated, had his bowels burnt before him and then beheaded before being ripped to shreds and sent to the farthest corners of the land. Right now I think Mitch McConnell would like to submit his name for that duty...

There is a long waiting list.

Please help me understand Eric Cantor. He seems to relish every opportunity to blow something up, and then walks around smirking about it. How does someone with such lack of respect for the governing process get into a leadership position?

I think lack of respect for the governing process is a prerequisite to become a leader in today's Congress.   But I was watching Cantor at the session with Boehner and the "conferees" yesterday.  That wasn't a smirk. That was fear.

Do you think McConnells' decision to come out in favor of the short-term fix to the payroll tax issue this morning (right after Boehner's presser) represents the beginning of the end of Tea Party influence within the party?

I prefer to answer this question after Ron Paul wins Iowa.

Dana: When I read your column about the freshmen Republicans likening themselves to the Scots who followed William Wallace, I had to laugh, remembering a great episode of The Simpsons in which Mel Gibson, playing himself, allowed Homer to rewrite Gibson's remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, making it highly violent. When the studio refuses to release the movie, Homer says that he and Mel will defy them and win, just as Braveheart defied the English. Mel replies, "Did you even see the movie? My troops were slaughtered, and I died an agonizing death!" Homer looks at him uncomprehendingly. This popular culture misreading also reminded me of how 1980s conservatives loved Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, because they only really listened to the patriotic sounding chorus, not the verses, which told the story of an embittered Vietnam vet who felt betrayed by his country.

But remember:  They continued with the Braveheart references at the GOP caucus even after one of their members warned them that it did not end well for the Scots.

Here's a holiday damage control question for you: where's a good liquor store in NW (ie Friendship Heights or thereabouts) or Bethesda? I have to lay my hands on some kirschwasser before Saturday and the place by my office downtown specializes more in pocket-size bottles of cheap vodka. I turn to you, all-knowing one.

You definitely don't want to cross the Montgomery County Line.    I like Paul's in Friendship Heights but spend more time at Calvert Woodley. 

All that doing nothing all year must have worn the House GOP out. They need to kick back and relax.

Fortunately they are all on recess except for the eight people who have to do the photo ops each day.



The Republican frosh are not going to bend, and as such, neither will the House Republican leadership (with Boehner looking nervously over his shoulder at Cantor who is waiting in the wings, dagger at hand). Where is the endgame? Seems the most likely scenario is that the payroll tax goes up on Jan. 1, and then negotiations will begin in earnest after the holiday break. Your thoughts?


This one is particularly hard to game out because it doesn't follow any of the usual scripts.  There's no fundamental underlying issue at stake and so there is no particular logic to what they are doing.   Certainly the WSJ editorialists were correct that the best course for them would be to cave quietly.   But when you are dealing with Bravehearts, there is no way to predict.  


The House GOP isn't exactly playing into the President's hands, because I don't think that POTUS thought they'd be this dumb. Still- all the President needs to do is spend the next 11 months saying "I'm the guy who wanted to lower your taxes and they're the guys who wanted to lower Bill Gates' taxes..." The House Republicans just reinforced the image that they aren't the party of smaller government and lower taxes, they're the party of saying the opposite of President Obama... it's not cute when 5-year-olds do it, so why do they think it'll be cute when a political party does it?


I think nobody has ever been happier to cancel a vacation than President Obama.    He is quite possibly the luckiest man alive right now.

It was announced that the Republicans did not want to vote on passing the Senate bill because it might pass. Is that a dream on the newsman's part? Please explain why the actual vote Monday was "procedural" rather than on the Senate bill.

Because the Senate bill would not have passed either way that vote turned out.    It was a resolution disapproving of the Senate bill, not a vote on the payroll tax.    It's a virtual certainty that large numbers of Republicans would have switched sides rather than vote a gainst a tax cut, even a two-month one.

Is there any lie Barack Obama can tell that is so egregious that even you would admit it?

That Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.

Jon Huntsman wins the New Hampshire primary.

I wish I could share your optimism.  But I do hope. 

I'm not familiar with this one myself, but I'd put money on Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits (on Connecticut, near the Avalon Theater) having something like that.

Possibly, but I find them overpriced.   Bell's on M Street might be worth a look.  

Dana: The internet is ablaze today with Rep. Sensenbrenner's comment that the First Lady should not be telling Americans how to eat healthier foods and exercise because of the size of her posterior. (Producer's note: He apparently has apologized).

Rep. Sensenbrenner, of course, looks like the archetypal fat, white, old guy whose arteries are about to shut down any minute from the grease clog. (Point of privilege: I'm a 63-year-old white guy with a pretty visible spare tire.)

Anyway, how stupid can he be? I would like Mrs. Obama to challenge him to arm wrestling, followed by 10 minutes of jumping jacks, followed by Rep. Sensenbrenner's funeral.

It's a shame, because Sensenbrenner's actually an amiable fellow on the Hill.   He does waddle like a penguin, though.  

The votes are all in / And the respect is rotting / The party's teed off/And headed for ruin / You won't have a name when you walk in the big room / All they will call you will be conferee

Does the current standoff demonstrate even more strongly that Boehner is merely an unwilling puppet of the Tea Partyers?

Unwilling?    He knew what he was doing when he built this majority.   I have no doubt he disagrees with the caucus sentiment, but he clearly made a choice to be led by his backbenchers. 

While I doubt many journalists have trudged through Gingrich's dissertation on Belgian educational policies in the Congo when they were its colonial rulers, Laura Seay did for The Atlantic, and I was struck by this quote of Newt's:

If the Congo was not the model colony Belgian publicists pretended, neither was it the disaster news reports from 1960 to 1965 suggested.

We can only hope that the general election turns on such questions.  

Is Newt self-destructing in Iowa, what with demanding that Romney call off a SuperPAC ad against him -- even though that's illegal for a candidate to do? Seems to me that if one gives most of the GOP candidates enough rope, they'll hang themselves.

Or draw and quarter themselves, if that's possible.

{like now} perhaps you can be persuaded to write a Cheap Booze blog. The story ideas are endless.

I am certainly more of an authority on booze than I am on politics.    But maintaining enthusiasm for the latter requires the former.

How about paying the full costs of government? Just a thought. You know citizens get off the permanent dole; Congress types take the coat and work up a sweat; president starts acting presidential. You know, America in the 40s.

I think you've started on the Kirschwasser already.

Would Eric Cantor be playing the part in the movie Braveheart where he betrays William Wallace and turns him over to the English?

It doesn't particularly fit the metaphor, but I think the nickname "Longshanks" would suit the majority leader well.

Wait, there's a problem with the link - isn't that the late Chris Farley?

Oh, come on.  Get off the poor guy's big butt.

I know far too many people who are not rational about Obama, where his race combined with his education pushes a button with them. These are the same people who misinterpret the First Lady as a scold telling people what foods they should eat. It's reasonable to suspect that many in the frosh contingent are driven by similar irrationality, where having an educated black man in a position of power goes against everything they've come to believe as normal.

I think it is fair to say that the irrational action on the payroll tax by the House Republicans was caused, at least in part, by the first lady's bottom.

When Labour tossed out the Tories, John Major went to being a back bencher, at least for one term. Do you see that happening w/Boehner, Cantor and that crazy woman from TN? This, of course, presumes the Tories get chucked out by the voters come November.

I think they would be drawn and quartered by the backbenchers and replaced in leadership by Phil Gingrey, the Georgia gynecologist who started the Braveheart talk on Fox News on Monday.

as president? Has anyone thought this through? 4 or 8 years of that hectoring voice rattling in your head day and night. Seriously?

But a guy can still dream, can't I? 

Obama is Bill Murray, Boehner is Rodney Dangerfield, and Cantor is Ted Knight.

The problem here is that Jon Kyl actually is actually Ted Knight as Judge Smails.

Well, thanks for joining me for this early installment of my Friday chat.   I'm off to New England for Christmas and will raise a glass of Kirschwasser to you, my treasured readers.  Enjoy the holidays.

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Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank reviews the political theater of the nation's capital in his editorial-page column. His most recent book is "Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America;" his other books are "Homo Politicus" (Doubleday, 2008) and "Smashmouth" (Basic Books, 2001). Milbank joined The Post as a political reporter in 2000 and wrote the "Washington Sketch" column for nearly six years. He lives in Washington with his wife and daughter. • Dana Milbank Bio & Archive
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