Here is some guidance on how the next several days could play out in the House of Representatives and Senate along with the political strategy and what might be the motives behind it.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had few arrows left in his quiver to fire at the Democrats, let alone get House Republicans to go along with the payroll tax bill. Democrats appeared to be winning the payroll tax issue in the court of public opinion. Plus Republicans were disenchanted about how things have gone this year. They haven't been able to pass big spending cut deals, the super committee was an abject failure...so they weren't willing to go along on the payroll tax holiday.
President Obama gave Boehner a gift by announcing he'd likely veto the Keystone pipeline deal.
In Judo, competitors try to use their opponents strengths against them.
And like Judo master, Boehner turned the president's promise of a Keystone veto against him for political gain.
Nothing gets the House Republicans ginned up like a fight with President Obama. Especially when they're scoring points with conservatives on hot button issues back home. Keystone is one of them.
As Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) indicated after yesterday's GOP conference meeting, if the president doesn't like it, that's good for us.
Boehner has turned to this playbook before.
In late July, Boehner struggled to pass a GOP bill to raise the debt ceiling. He couldn't find the votes and had to yank that bill off the floor. Finally, Boehner found the votes by attaching a provision to defund Solyndra. That piece of political red meat excited the House conservative. It proved to be enough of a sweetener to pick up the necessary Republican votes to pass the bill.
Here, Boehner is using the same tactic.
Boehner may also be prepared to jam the Senate and the president with the Keystone provision. Look closely at his statement today where he says "It is my hope that the president will accept this measure so that Americans can see that we are still capable of working together to meet the challenges we face."
At the GOP Conference yesterday, rank-and-file lawmakers told Republican leaders that the pipeline significantly enhanced their support for the payroll package. But if the pipeline was stricken, they were out.
So Boehner could do the following: pass the new payroll tax bill next Tuesday or so...and then approve the omnibus spending bill on Wednesday or Thursday...and LEAVE TOWN. This would abandon all of this all in the Senate's lap with a take it or leave it approach.
The trick is if the House adjourns for the year "sine die" (pronounced SIGH-nee DY, for those who don't speak Latin). A sine die adjournment signals the House is done until January. If the House goes out sine die, Boehner has completely stuck it to the Senate and is daring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to kill the House bill and challenging President Obama to veto it.
The GOP base will love this and Boehner will significantly pick up a lot of goodwill when the well as run dry.
But, Boehner could very well cut the House free later next week...but NOT ADJOURN SIE DIE. That gets everyone home for a bit to do holiday shopping, trim the tree and visit the grandkids. It APPEARS as though the House has left town...but it hasn't really. That way if there is any compromise to be made, it's up to Reid and the president. And if there's a middle ground (that doesn't blow up the bill), then Boehner could conceivably recall the House for a day or so just before Christmas to put the final touches on everything.
This accomplishes two things: gets everyone home for a chunk of December, diminishes the chances of everyone hanging here for two weeks right up until the 24th and simultaneously stokes conservatives.
That said, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) put members on notice the other day that lawmakers should be prepared to stay here until all business is done for the year.
That's why it's entirely possible Republican leaders could keep the House here until whenever this is all worked out. Once the House passes the payroll tax bill and the omnibus spending bill (to avert a government shutdown...which must be done by December 16), the Senate has to take up both items. Even if a compromise is worked out, they may have to Ping-Pong the payroll tax back and forth between the bodies a few times. And no one really wants to get out of Dodge until they are SURE there are no problems with the omnibus and the government won't close.
The omnibus is going to be a big a problem for many fiscal and social conservatives. Boehner has already had to rely on significant Democratic support on major spending items this year. He lost 40 percent of the House GOP Conference in November to avert a shutdown then and fund three sectors of the government. Fiscal conservatives are irate that this omnibus doesn't save more money. Plus there are all sorts of policy riders in this bill that Republicans aren't happy about. Environmental regulations. Multiple abortion provisions. The bill won't defund the health care law as many conservatives vowed to do (it may just nick it a little). And it's likely Planned Parenthood will still receive federal money.
So conservatives are skeptical about that bill. But Boehner could win some over with the Keystone pipeline and picking a fight with the president. All of which sets up a very interesting final three weeks of the year.