Speaker Boehner Grasping At Straws With Churchill Bust Bill

December 20, 2011 12:00 pm ET — Kate Conway

Rep. John Boehner

As the year draws to a close, the top-priority payroll tax holiday extension remains unresolved, with the GOP rejecting the Senate's bipartisan two-month extension but also refusing to pass a year-long extension without divisive riders. Yet last night, the House took time out of its payroll tax considerations to pass what must have been, given the end-of-the-year timing, an extremely important measure: A resolution, sponsored by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), to put a bust of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the Capitol. From The Hill:

The House on Monday evening voted by unanimous consent in favor of H.Res. 497, which would commission the placement of a bust of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the Capitol.

The House adjourned moments after that vote, and members gave no sign as to when votes on the payroll tax bill might take place tonight. House Republicans are expected to caucus at 6 p.m. to discuss how to handle the payroll tax issue.

In fact, no vote whatsoever took place last night on the payroll tax, although the House is reportedly set to reject the Senate's bill today.

The Churchill bill, which cites the former prime minister's leadership during World War II and the honorary American citizenship conferred upon him by Congress in 1963, passed by voice vote, and there's no real reason to object to the placement of the bust in the Capitol, which contains a few other works of art depicting foreign leaders.

But it's hard not to see the timing — and even the content — of the measure as politically motivated.

Proposing to enshrine a bust of Churchill in the Capitol — especially doing so in the midst of such a highly politicized back-and-forth — looks a lot like a jab at President Obama, who touched off conservative backlash at the beginning of his presidency by replacing a Churchill bust in the Oval Office with a bust of Abraham Lincoln. The Churchill bust had only been there since Prime Minister Tony Blair loaned it to President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

Additionally, Boehner is scrambling to get his far-right caucus to cooperate on the politically and economically necessary payroll tax cut extension, and the House GOP's insistence on voting against the Senate bill signals a failure. Perhaps Boehner, who has only sponsored a total of four bills since becoming speaker, is desperate for a legislative victory to suggest he's still an efficacious leader.