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Win – Don’t Lose

December 19, 2011

Often in my business, we talk about win-win situations. That’s where everyone in the room agrees tomove forward in a way that’s advantageous to them, and then the pixies come and sprinkle fairy dust all over the cubicles.  The point is that win-win is only something you teach in a class in all but the simplest of cases.  If things get complex, it’s likely that you always have to give a little.

Ed Morrissey’s been there, at least by his take on the Payroll Tax Cut/Keystone XL decision point.

The only reason to support this approach is to get President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline in the same time frame.  The expiration of the tax holiday would put pressure on Obama to approve the pipeline, but there is already plenty of pressure on Obama to do just that — from both parties.  The short time period would then allow Obama to raise the issue again and try to paint the GOP as opposing middle-class tax cuts, even though this has the effect of reducing contributions to the already-sinking Social Security fund without any of the investment benefits of long-term tax reform.

The White House, however, wants the House to pass this bill as an interim measure while continuing work on a one-year extension of the tax holiday.  That’s an argument that makes sense for those who believe extending this tax holiday is a good idea at all.  Congress has taken the same approach to budgeting for the last three years anyway, running the government on a series of continuing resolutions.  Why not do the same with this “tax cut,” if Republicans say as they do in the media that they want to pass a longer-term holiday anyway?

If Republicans want to start a fight, then they would work to make the payroll tax cut permanent, and also work to pay for that.   The Democrats would likely balk at both portions of that, and then there’s real positioning going on.  If this is just a Democratic ploy to make it look like there’s an effort on jobs, that can be exposed fairly quickly. (I’m not say it is, I’m just theorizing.  Note that I probably believe that, but I’m not going that far.)

But on that, what’s the real goal here?  Do the Republicans really think that a one-year payroll tax cut actually creates jobs?  No.  Not most of them, at least.  They’re tired of getting hammered as the party that wants everyone unemployed, and they’re reacting to the slap rather than to the punch that’s coming.

The win-don’t lose scenario here is that you push the positioning back to the Democrats and force a decision on the pipeline.  The distractions around this actually enabled a real budget to pass, and this is just maneuvering.  At times, the best strategy is to stop spinning around and just move in a direction.

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