The GOP’s costly fumble over the payroll tax extension
posted at 10:53 am on December 21, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
In Washington politics, appearances are everything, especially in the era of Barack Obama. No one understands this better than liberals. One of them, an associate political science professor named Thomas F. Schaller, wrote in a column at Salon:
The payroll tax fight provides the president a rare opportunity to pull together so many of the loose threads of his presidency. This is the opportunity for the former law professor to be an educator-in-chief about the growing disparities between those who derived incomes from wealth and those who derive them from work. It is an opportunity to prove that he can stare down and unmask the rump Republican national minority that pretends its House majority represents the public will. It is a chance to prove that Washington’s rigged game need not always result in the spoils of political victory going automatically, or at least disproportionately, to the economically spoiled. This is, in short, a moment for the president to demonstrate the resolve that earned his hopeful believers’ support three years ago, and it comes as he begins asking the electorate for another four-year lease on the Oval Office.
The sad part is that he is right. In the fight that counts—the battle to win public approval—the GOP blew it. In voting down the Senate’s two-month extension of the payroll tax before the Christmas recess, the House Republicans end up looking like the Grinch, an image that the Democrats will milk for all its worth.
Not that extending the payroll tax holiday makes any economic sense to start with. What the Senate bill would boil down to is an extra $150 in the pocket of every American family in 2012—period. The lowering of costs to employers, from 6.2% to 4.2%, would yield zero stimulative effect. This legislation is an example of the purest and most cynical form of politics at work.
As an added irony, the GOP alternative is to extend this tax holiday for a year, not just two months.
Instead, Obama gets to paint himself as a frustrated tax cutter—or, in the spirit of the holiday, gift giver—while the Republicans get branded as the party of a lump of coal. And all of this comes at a time when, in case you haven’t noticed, the president’s approval ratings have been ticking upward.
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