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Editorial: Stand tough on payroll tax cut, Mr. President

Updated: January 23, 2012 10:48AM



Don’t give an inch, Mr. President.

If the House fails to vote on a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut that keeps an extra $1,000 a year in the pocket of working people during hard times, the country will know who is to blame — extremist House Republicans. It is time for the tail to stop wagging the dog.

President Barack Obama is eager to sign into law this compromise measure, which would give Congress breathing room after the holidays to negotiate a longer-term bill. Both Senate Democrats and Republicans voted overwhelming in favor of it. House Democrats, apparently without exception, also are ready to do so.

For that matter, House Speaker John Boehner signaled early on that he would back the bill. His Republican colleagues in the Senate, to be sure, would not have agreed to the measure without assurances from Boehner that he could and would push it through the House.

But then Boehner reversed himself, as he has done all year when faced with a backlash from the most extreme — and Obama-phobic — members of his own Republican caucus. In a conference call last week, Boehner urged them to approve the bill, but he quickly back-pedaled when they balked. Now he’s calling a two-month extension “unworkable.”

Talk about leading from behind.

So there you have it. Everybody in Washington short of the janitors mopping the Capitol rotunda sees the wisdom of approving the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, but a militant faction of House Republicans is killing the deal. Truly the tail is wagging the dog.

To understand what’s really going on here, it’s important to pay attention to the rhetorical hypocrisy. House Republicans who oppose the bill say they favor a payroll tax cut extension, but want to see it done for a full year, not just for two months. They are being disingenuous, to put it politely, and hoping you’re naive enough to buy it.

Many of them — beginning with Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader — previously questioned the wisdom of reducing payroll taxes at all. It is entirely likely that Cantor and Co. still oppose any extension of the tax cut, while saying otherwise, and hope to achieve that end by scuttling the two-month deal.

At their most honorable, those who oppose a continuation of the temporary tax cut fear it might never be levied again, endangering an already under-funded Social Security system. That’s an understandable concern, but not reason enough to essentially hike taxes on the middle class in hard times. And nobody should forget that the very same Republicans who want to hit up working folks for more taxes blanch at the thought of raising taxes on multimillionaires.

At their least honorable, those who oppose extending the tax holiday are loath to do anything that might give Obama a boost in an election year.

Extending the tax cut would be seen as a legislative victory for the president and might help the economy.

Boehner should allow the Senate bill to be voted on in the House. There are indications it might actually pass, picking up just enough votes from those Republicans who still believe in compromise.

If the vote falls short, American workers will at least know exactly who is to blame — name by name — for the bigger tax bite taken from their paychecks beginning Jan. 1.



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