FORTUNE -- In Washington's dig-your-heels-in climate, a strange phenomenon is afoot. Congressional Republicans are caving to Democrats' demands.
It first happened earlier this month when House Speaker John Boehner announced that he would bring a clean bill (no concessions, spending cuts, or any other side measures attached) to raise the debt ceiling to a vote. It may very well happen again next week, when Congress is back in session and a group of Republican senators is expected to strike a deal to pass an extension of unemployment benefits that their cohort has rejected twice since late December.
But don't for a second think that this is borne out of bipartisanship and goodwill. Republicans are giving in to get ahead.
"What they're doing is clearing the decks," says Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. The debt ceiling vote and this most recent issue of the unemployment benefits are both issues in which polling shows that the Democrats have the better argument. Going into the election, they want to eliminate issues where the public is clearly with the Democrats.
Following the debt ceiling debate that led to a government shutdown in October, an MSNBC poll showed that just 24% of respondents had a favorable opinion of the GOP, and only 21% viewed the Tea party favorably. Both figures represented all-time lows. And a Quinnipiac University poll from January showed that 58% of Americans supported extending unemployment benefits by about three months past the current 26-week expiration point.
If Republicans were to continue to fight the jobless benefits extension, for instance, it would give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more opportunities to tell stories of struggling Americans and lambast the Republicans for standing in the way of relief.
By removing these matters -- and their unpopular stances on them -- from the news cycle, Republicans are hoping that the media and the public will focus instead on the slow economic recovery and the bungled rollout of Obamacare -- issues that give Republicans the upper hand going into the 2014 midterm elections, Jillson says. "They don't want to screw that up."
Some experts, though, think it's generous to call Republicans' recent surrenders a strategy at all.
"It strikes me that this reflects tension within the GOP," says Seth Freeman, adjunct professor of negotiation and conflict management at NYU Stern School of Business and Columbia University. "Whenever an organization's hawks and doves are in disagreement, one extra vote can tip the balance. It can seem like it's acting with a deliberate strategy, but then you pull back the curtain and there's disarray." That's a point that resonates, especially since the clean debt ceiling bill went to the House floor after Republicans failed to rally support within their own ranks to tack on a military pension provision.
"I think the outcome here is simply the result of the aggregation of a bunch of individual members of Congress," says, Robert Mnookin, director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project. "It doesn't seem like it was driven by leadership."
Two very important factions of the Republican Party -- the business lobby and the Tea Party -- have never been farther apart.
By Tory Newmyer, writer
FORTUNE -- Last week I offered a new piece of information suggesting why business leaders and the Tea Party are having so much trouble getting along: They're coming from different places, literally. Only one Fortune 100 company is headquartered in a Congressional district represented by MOREOct 30, 2013 2:27 PM ET
Obama's above-the-fray leadership style has been effective in holding Democrats together, but it's failed -- at least, so far -- to bring Republicans to the negotiating table.Claire Zillman, reporter - Oct 2, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Georgia is rarely thought of as union-friendly, but as the entertainment industry in the peach state has flourished, so too have the membership rolls of local unions.May 21, 2013 5:00 AM ET
The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge once observed. And never has that been more clear than this morning, where two former business executives have moved one step closer to political power. Both Meg Whitman, former head of eBay and Carly Fiorina, the lapsed HP honcho, won their primaries and are prepared to sweep into office if there is any Republican sweeping in November. Pundits think there will be, of MOREBing - Jun 9, 2010 10:13 AM ET
|What stumps Warren Buffett? Minimum wage|
|Water becoming more valuable than gold|
|GM's $1.3 billion recall cost wipes out profit|
|Will 7 Apples a day keep the bears away? - The Buzz|
|Ex-Wal-Mart CEO Duke retired with $140 million|