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Election-Year Realities Bring Compromise On Payroll Taxes And More

Part of President Obama's 2012 re-election strategy was to run against a do-nothing Congress. But congressional Republicans now appear determined to make that approach harder for him by coming to terms on some Democratic priorities.

The news that a compromise was reached by congressional Republicans and Democrats to extend the payroll tax cut as well as to fund two other policies — additional jobless benefits for some of the long-term unemployed and no payment cuts to doctors who accept Medicare patients — was an indication of how the looming general election has changed the political dynamics in Washington.

At a media availability Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner didn't say directly that there was a new mood of compromise on Capitol Hill. He suggested, instead, that Republicans had chosen to act responsibly because Democrats allegedly weren't:

BOEHNER: So we were not going to allow the Democrats to continue to play political games and raise taxes on working Americans. And so we made a decision to bring them to the table so that the games would stop and we would get this work done.

Boehner added that the House could vote on the agreement by week's end.

What Boehner didn't say but what is most certainly true is that none of the past year's partisan battles over an earlier extension of the payroll tax cut, raising the debt ceiling or continuing to fund the federal government have left Republicans politically better off.

All those fights did was help Congress' approval ratings fall to about 10 percent, give or take a percentage point, while Obama's approval has inched up. Clearly, the prior congressional Republican strategy was creating some electoral vulnerabilities for the GOP.

So there was an obvious incentive for the congressional Republican leadership to shift course to avoid incurring anymore of the political damage of the past year.

There'll still be plenty of disagreements and other issues on which the president will accuse congressional Republicans of intransigence.

Compromise seems next to impossible on Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, for instance. And his 2013 budget is just as much of a non-starter as the jobs legislation he proposed last year.

But the congressional Republican leaders are clearly becoming more selective on where they draw the line.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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