Political Animal


December 17, 2011 9:15 AM House GOP leader on payroll cut: ‘A bad idea’

By Steve Benen

Senate leaders struck a deal late yesterday for a two-month extension of the payroll tax break, which senators will probably approve later today. House passage will likely be a much heavier lift.

The key problem is pretty straightforward: Republicans have met a tax cut they simply don’t like.

Bloomberg TV’s Al Hunt sat down yesterday with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who called a payroll tax break a “horrible idea” in September. Hunt asked where Sessions currently stands. He replied:

“Well, I didn’t change my mind. It is a bad idea. But when you combine that with something else — for instance, when we voted the extension of the tax cuts — when you mirror that with something that’s a job stimulus, an economic growth package, then it’s a good deal. […]

“Now is the wrong time — now is the wrong time to have the American worker take home less pay.”

Part of the problem here is that Pete Sessions doesn’t understand tax policy (or even arithmetic) especially well. Look at that quote again — the Texas lawmaker doesn’t want American workers to take home less pay, which is why he thinks it’s a bad idea for American workers to take home less pay.

If I had to guess, I’d say Sessions was probably referring to the Democratic plan for a surtax on millionaires and billionaires — what else makes sense in this context? — though it’s worth noting that the surtax provision has already been dropped as part of the negotiations.

If this isn’t what he’s referring to, the Bloomberg transcript is accurate, and the congressman actually wants Americans workers to take home more and less pay at the same time, then I can only wonder whether Pete Sessions has suffered some kind of head trauma recently.

In either case, the key realization from this, Sessions’ limited intellect notwithstanding, is that many, if not most, House Republicans simply want this tax break to go away. They’ve heard the warning about the detrimental effect on the economy, and they simply don’t care.

The political world has come to accept a basic truism: the Republican Party is, above all else, an anti-tax party. GOP officials always want to cut taxes, regardless of merit or circumstances.

The maxim is incomplete — Republicans love tax cuts, but their affection is limited to cuts for the very wealthy. An extension of the payroll break largely benefits the middle class, and that immediately gives the GOP pause.

So what’s going to happen? One scenario to keep an eye on is a bipartisan majority — Republican leaders can corral enough GOP members to join House Democrats to get the package across the finish line. The other, perhaps more likely, scenario is that Boehner and Cantor get pushed around by their caucus again, add a bunch of right-wing sweeteners to the Senate version, and say they refuse to budge until Dems agree to the terms.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on December 17, 2011 9:27 AM:

    I'm against anything the prevents eligible people from voting.
    I'm against "Literacy Tests" for people wanting to vote.

    But can't we have "Literacy Tests" for politicians?

    I mean, if we had "Literacy Tests" for them as voters, they couldn't pass with a cheat sheet tattooed on their arm, so why should they be allowed to govern, if they're way too f'in stupid to vote?!?!?!

  • DAY on December 17, 2011 9:28 AM:

    Given the sorry state of our media, I wonder if those collecting a weekly paycheck are even aware that their take home pay is about to take a hit. Happy Holidays, suckers!

  • Ron Byers on December 17, 2011 9:55 AM:

    Actually the payroll tax cut is a bad idea in normal circumstances. It takes money away from Social Security. These are hardly normal circumstances. If I had my druthers I would fund major infrastructure projects all over the place. Repair a lot of bridges, improve our power grid, and even build a pipeline or two, but that isn't in the cards right now, so we are stuck robbing Social Security to put money in the pockets of real people.

  • Gandalf on December 17, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Let's get this straight the republican party stands for only one and one thing only and that's to take care of certain wealthy people in this country. Oh all right and also to gain wealth for themselves while in office. The perception that they're anti-tax or strong on defense or conservative or anything else is all a load of farm animal waste.

  • angryspittle on December 17, 2011 10:21 AM:

    The GOP revels in their stupid juice and wants the rest of the country to be as stupid as they are.

  • hells littlest angel on December 17, 2011 10:23 AM:

    You want an explanation of what Sessions said? Ask Harry Frankfurt.

  • 2Manchu on December 17, 2011 11:03 AM:

    "...the Texas lawmaker doesnít want American workers to take home less pay, which is why he thinks itís a bad idea for American workers to take home less pay."

    And Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Josef K on December 17, 2011 11:08 AM:

    Bloomberg TVís Al Hunt sat down yesterday with Rep. Pete Sessions

    The real question is why the hell did Hunt and his producers think talking with Sessions was a productive use of airtime?

    Then again, if they wanted to talk with just Republicans who speak intelligently they'd be left with...Mitt Romney.

    I can't wait to see what happens next. Nothing good, I'm sure.

  • Anonymous on December 17, 2011 12:00 PM:

    They've heard the warning about the detrimental effect on the economy, and they simply don't care.

    They've heard the warning about the detrimental effect on the economy, and they... ARE EXCITED ABOUT MAKING IT HAPPEN.

    Fixed it for you. Just another brick in the "sabotage" wall.

  • TCinLA on December 17, 2011 2:10 PM:

    Ah yes, ex-"fighter jock" Pete Sessions proving once again that the ability to fly airplanes has nothing to do with intelligence.

  • Quaker in a Basement on December 17, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Shhhh! Be vewwwwy quiet!!

    The payroll tax holiday is the single most progressive victory Obama has accomplished in his term as president. In effect, he has undone Reagan's giveaway to the rich.

    Back in 1983, the Greenspan commission engineered a gigantic increase in payroll taxes, supposedly designed to fund the retirement of baby boomers. The increased tax revenues were promptly loaned to the Treasury in return for special issue bonds, allowing Reagan to cut income taxes for the wealthy.

    Fast forward 25 years. The time to redeem those bonds approaches and the congressional GOP is dragging its feet to increase income tax rates to pay off the debt.

    When Obama achieves a payroll tax "holiday," he is, in effect, rolling back the regressive increase in taxes on low income earners and replacing it with money funded with income taxes or with new borrowing, to be paid in the future with income taxes.

    Keep it under your hat, 'kay?

  • chi res on December 17, 2011 4:10 PM:

    Ron Byers: Actually the payroll tax cut is a bad idea in normal circumstances. It takes money away from Social Security.

    Actually no, no it doesn't. Read Steve's explanation here:


  • tom on December 17, 2011 5:52 PM:

    The pattern is depressingly clear. Whatever Obama wants, the GOP will give him a small part of it, if at all, and only at the price of several other things that they want and Obama does not want.

    Whatever Obama does not want, and says so, he will be forced to accept, in order to get something he wants, provoking cries of 'sellout' from anti-Obama leftists.

    Thus, all victories are compromised and all compromises defeats.

    Yet, he persists to try to get the best he can get, given the ruthlessness of his adversaries and the fecklessness of his "allies."

  • Doug on December 17, 2011 7:07 PM:

    Apparently, even Republican politicians get their information from Fox. Either that or Sessions IS as dumb as a box rocks.
    We report, you decide...