A tax-cut stalemate.
Just when you thought congressional approval ratings couldn't sink any lower, federal lawmakers came through with a move Tuesday sure to disgust and alienate even more Americans: House Republicans rejected a bipartisan compromise approved earlier by the Senate that would have extended the payroll tax cut for most U.S. workers for two months beyond the end of the year and allowed millions of unemployed people to continue receiving jobless benefits.
As if that weren't bad enough, senators left Washington, D.C., for the holidays, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that he will block negotiations on the longer-term extension sought by GOP representatives until the House approves the Senate's short-term measure.
If Congress doesn't end this ridiculously partisan impasse, in January millions of Americans will lose their unemployment benefits and the Social Security payroll tax rate for 160 million Americans will rise to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent. A leading economist warned Tuesday that failure to enact an extension could reduce economic growth by 1.5 percentage points in the first half of 2012.
With 14 million people out of work, wages falling and poverty surging, this isn't the sort of leadership Americans need from Congress. House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders should back off their ill-advised brinksmanship and insist that their unruly caucus support the Senate's bipartisan deal for a stopgap extension of payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits.
Ironically, Boehner originally agreed to the Senate deal, which had the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Boehner reportedly urged his caucus to accept it, only to have tea party members and other hardline conservatives reject the short-term deal because they believed that the GOP should have wrung more concessions from Democrats.
Boehner's opposition to the short-term compromise approved by the Senate and his insistence on a long-term deal lacks credibility, given his earlier support for the Senate measure, which contains a requirement that the Obama administration make a decision within 60 days on TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline, a provision demanded by House Republicans. If Boehner had wanted a longer extension, House Republicans could easily have had it if they hadn't loaded an earlier 12-month tax cut bill with steep cuts in unemployment benefits and rollbacks of environmental regulations and other noxious riders that they knew would be unacceptable to Democrats.
Boehner is right: Congress should be able to do better than a two-month extension. But the Senate was unable to reach agreement on a full-year's offset and settled instead on the short-term deal after Republicans rejected the Democrats' proposal for a millionaire's tax surcharge to pay for the longer extension.
The speaker should order the Senate bill to the floor and House members, both Republicans and Democrats, should approve it to make sure the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits don't lapse on Jan. 1.
Then House and Senate negotiators should start the new year off right by setting aside the poisonous partisanship that too long has paralyzed Congress and figuring out how to pay for the long-term extension of the payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits that this nation and its struggling economy badly need.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Dec 21, 2011|
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