As lawmakers left the House floor after legislative business was finished on Tuesday, members of both parties told reporters they had no idea how a raging political dispute over a payroll tax cut extension was going to be resolved.
And it left some shaking their heads in institutional dismay.
“To me this is really just silliness,” said Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), one of the handful of Blue Dog Democrats left in the Congress, as he flatly said it’s just time to cut a deal and go home for the holidays.
“I don’t like the two month extension, but take it, pass it and let’s go on,” Boren told me in the ornate Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor.
I asked Boren if he had spoken to his father – a former U.S. Senator from Oklahoma whom I also covered as a reporter- about the current battles in Congress.
The message – just reinforced last week by his dad – was that ‘things are so much different” in Congress than when his father served.
“It’s one of the reasons why I’m leaving here,” added Boren, who is not running for re-election in 2012.
Boren was one of the few lawmakers not pointing fingers at the other party, as Democrats skewered Republicans and GOP members fired right back in a payroll tax cut dispute that frankly does not seem to be on the verge of a solution.
“What we are seeing is a great dysfunction in the Republican Party and the House of Representatives,” said Rep. David Scott (D-GA), who backed the two month option.
“If we’re down to making policy changes two months at a time, what’s next?” asked Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK). “We do things a month at a time? A week at a time?”
Democrats meanwhile started to train their fire on a favorite target – the Tea Party.
“As a result of Tea Party Republican extremism, on January 1st, 160 million Americans will see a tax hike,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
For Republicans, one of their big targets was the Democratic Senate, as GOP leaders demanded that the Senate return from its holiday break.
“That would be a shame if the Senate chose not to come back and do their job,” said Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL).
Before leaving town, Republicans told their rank-and-file that they would be given 24 hours notice before being called back to Washington for any legislative business, since the House is supposed to be off until mid-January.
GOP lawmakers whom I spoke to on Tuesday seemed to think that Democrats would blast them all through the Christmas weekend, and then maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday there might be some moves to negotiate a deal.
If that’s the case, then this will go right down to the wire, as on January 1, taxes would go up on working Americans by about $1,000 on average.
Could we go over the cliff and have that happen? Sure we could.
Will we? Or will someone blink?
Both parties now get some time to think it over.