Democrats in the Senate held another vote Thursday on their latest proposal, which relies on the surtax as well as some GOP-backed fees to pay for the tax break. The package failed — the GOP dismissed it as a political stunt — but the tally will provide Democrats with another opportunity to pound Republicans. A GOP version also fell short.
Democrats also have seized upon nonpartisan reports documenting dramatic increases in income disparity over the last 30 years, a period that saw the incomes of the top 1% increase by more than 250% as middle-class incomes stagnated.
"Now I know many Republicans have sworn an oath never to raise taxes as long as they live," Obama said this week. "How could it be that the only time there's a catch is when it comes to raising taxes on middle-class families?... It doesn't make sense."
GOP lawmakers and strategists privately acknowledge the toll the prolonged public battle is taking, just before the Christmas holiday when Americans are pinched for cash. Obama is equating the Republicans to the Grinch.
"On the surface, I think the president has gained some traction," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who is not a fan of the payroll tax break but is considering his options. "We have the harder hill to climb."
"The problem is, Democrats have a very simple message and Republicans have a very complicated message," said John Feehery, a former Republican leadership aide who is director of government affairs at Quinn Gillespie.
And that, he said, leads to an age-old lesson in politics: "If you're explaining, you're losing."