First, Republicans opposed extending the payroll tax cut that put an extra $20 a week in the pockets of 160 million working Americans.
Next, they supported it. If the cost were offset the way they wanted. Even though Republicans previously had said that tax cuts never need be offset.
After that, they opposed a stopgap measure extending the break by two months. Even though the cost was offset.
Ultimately, they approved the 60-day extension.
Then, they opposed extending the tax cut another 10 months. Unless the cost were offset.
Finally, however, they supported that. Even though the cost was not, in fact, offset.
What's that sound? It's the frantic flailing of a grounded GOP fish: flip flop, flip flop, flip flop.
Republicans revel in casting themselves as the principled party. They claim they're the moral majority. Their values, they contend, are unshakable. So their serial waffling on this issue is confusing. Against it; for it; against it; for it. Isn't that what they ridiculed a Democratic Presidential candidate for?
There's a simple explanation, however. Throughout this entire episode, Republicans never wavered or vacillated or faltered in any way in performing their most vital, their most basic function as a political party: pandering to the rich.
The thread running through this drama, from beginning to end, is Republican opposition to equitably taxing the rich. The GOP did whatever it took to prevent the nation's millionaires and billionaires from parting with another cent. In the end, the party's public image took a beating. But Congressional Republicans triumphed in shielding the nation's richest from paying their fair share.
So focused are Republicans on providing welfare for the rich in the form of special tax breaks and perks that initially the party didn't support extending the payroll tax cut for the middle class at all. Late last November, party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, announced they opposed a one-year expansion. Republicans said they'd allow a temporary tax cut for the middle class to expire, no problem, even though they'd previously contended they couldn't end the supposedly temporary income tax cut Bush gave the rich because that would be a "tax increase," and they could never support a tax increase. Not ever.
For Republicans, who are so true-blue to blue bloods, the real problem with extending the payroll tax cut for the middle class was that Democrats proposed paying for it with a small surtax on the nation's wealthiest.
That confronted the GOP with a choice: side with the rich or go with the middle class. This was hardly a Sophie's Choice, however. It was no difficult decision for the average American, say one of the 160 million for whom the extra $1,000 a year from the payroll tax break is meaningful.
Despite that, the GOP sided with 350,000 millionaires and billionaires. Republicans worked to ensure those millionaires and billionaires would not have to pay an additional amount insignificant to the 1 percent individually, but collectively substantial to the federal budget.
Within days of Kyl's assertion that the GOP opposed adding a year to the payroll tax cut, Republicans changed their minds. They would go for the extension, they said, if the cost were offset not by taxing the rich but instead by freezing the wages of federal workers for a third year in a row and eliminating the jobs of 210,000 of them.
Their logic was straightforward -- if the middle class were to get a break, then the middle class would pay for it.
Democrats, and the vast majority of Americans, disagreed.
At the time, Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Americans could "take to the bank the fact that" a payroll tax cut extension for 10 additional months "will be paid for."
Seventy-eight days later, Boehner and his Republican crew agreed to extend the tax break without an offset.
Never mind, then.
In a presidential election year, Boehner & Co. surrendered to a simple calculus: the 99 percent has something that the 1 percent doesn't -- more votes. Way more. And polls show American opinion is just the opposite of Republican position on these issues. Americans strongly support raising taxes on the rich, while they strongly oppose ending the payroll tax cut for the 99 percent.
The GOP was cornered. If it wanted to win elections, it must appease the 99 percent. If it wanted to remain true to its core values -- pandering to the rich -- it must refuse a surtax on the 1 percent.
So Republicans flip flopped on the easier issue -- appeasing the unwashed masses. Have your payroll tax break extension, damn it.
Unfortunately for the GOP, the masses may be unwashed, but they're not unwise. This time last year, 63 percent disapproved of Congressional Republicans; by January, 75 percent disapproved of the GOP.
There's just something so unappealing about a flip flopper. But as U.S. Sen. John Kerry can tell you, Republicans know that.