House passes payroll tax cut deal

After House Republicans caved in negotiations earlier this week, this should come as no surprise to anyone: By a bipartisan majority of 293 to 132, the House today passed a deal to offer workers an unfunded payroll tax cut, to extend unemployment benefits and to prevent cuts in Medicare payments to health care providers. The 270-page measure attracted support from 146 Republicans and 147 Democrats. Maryland Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen voted against it because it also includes a provision to increase federal workers’ pension contributions.

Now, it heads to the Senate, where it’s also expected to pass, but has less overwhelming support. The three Republican senators who engaged in negotiations, for example, are still upset that the cost of the extension will not be offset elsewhere (as they should be!). The two Maryland Democratic senators will support it, though — at the request of the president, who made a personal call to each of them from Air Force One.

Don’t be fooled that this signifies the beginning of a new bipartisan, harmonious era in Congress, though:

But I doubt that pragmatism is going to be the highlight of this election-year session. On the contrary, the proposed payroll tax cut deal happened because the two camps finally recognized that their ideologies were aligned. Republicans like to cut taxes, and Democrats like to portray themselves as the champions of working families. If the issue were whether to cut the tax on estates or investment income, the outcome would probably have been quite different.

The ideological split between much of the House GOP and most Senate Democrats over governing in general is likely to make the rest of the session feel as contentious and unproductive as last year’s. A good example is the pending surface transportation bill. The House version is animated by the GOP argument that Problem No. 1 is the deficit and Problem No. 2 is excessive federal regulation (in this case, on domestic energy production). The bipartisan Senate version reflects two very different priorities: putting as many people to work and spending as much on infrastructure as possible.

This deal is politics at its worst — an irresponsible plan that adds to the deficit, accomplishes little and aims mainly to cast Congress and the president in as sympathetic a light as possible. We’re supposed to think: They passed a middle class tax cut! Aren’t they just great? If you’re a millennial like me, you better stuff the money you see through this tax cut in a retirement fund because Social Security won’t be around when we reach retirement age.

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