Political Animal


December 05, 2011 8:30 AM The nature of GOP tax-cut demands

By Steve Benen

About a week ago, the conventional wisdom was that extending the payroll tax cut through 2012, as President Obama wants, wouldn’t pose too tough a challenge. The party leadership in both parties and both chambers had endorsed the goal, and the debate was over how to pay for the policy, not whether the policy was worthwhile.

But Republicans quickly discovered a problem. In the Senate, most of the GOP caucus was so reluctant to approve the tax break, they voted against their own party’s plan. In the House, the gap between the leadership and the rank-and-file members was surprisingly wide.

Deep rifts among House Republicans over a payroll tax break became evident Friday as rank-and-file members of the caucus told their leaders that they did not want to extend the cut in Social Security taxes for another year, as demanded by President Obama.

Given the effort Democrats are making to capitalize on the issue, Speaker John A. Boehner warned Republicans they would run political risks and could be accused of allowing a tax increase if they blocked the continuation of payroll tax relief set to expire at the end of the year. Lawmakers coming out of the caucus meeting Friday said they had had a spirited debate.

“Most people standing up to speak were troubled” by legislation to extend the payroll tax cut, said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. “There was a divide between the rank and file and the leadership. There was a lot of disquiet in that room.”

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.

Indeed, the very debate has tied Republicans in knots. They want to cut taxes, except for these taxes. They don’t believe tax cuts should be paid for, except these tax cuts must be paid for. They believe tax breaks always work to benefit the economy, except these tax breaks don’t do much of anything, no matter what economists say. They believe letting tax cuts expire counts as a tax increase, except these tax cuts, which don’t.

As of Friday, we’re looking at a new, almost-amusing scenario in which Republican lawmakers want some kind of sweetener to vote for a tax cut.

And what, pray tell, does the GOP want as a ransom? Republican leaders are apparently asking for “proposals easing air pollution standards for industrial boilers and clearing the way for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.” If Dems balk, the payroll break expires, and the economy likely gets worse.

For their part, Senate Democratic leaders are reportedly crafting a compromise plan — which, presumably, would not include a surtax on millionaires and billionaires — to be presented today.

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
  • martin on December 05, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Lucy. Football. Charlie Brown.

    If the Dems don't use the word hostage in every sentence referring to this, they deserve to lose.

  • SteveT on December 05, 2011 8:46 AM:

    "Most people standing up to speak were troubled" by legislation to extend the payroll tax cut, said Representative Jeff Flake

    Is "troubled" a euphemism for bat-shit, howling-at-the-moon crazy?

    And I thought the name 'Flake' was perfect for a Republican congressman -- especially one from Arizona.

  • Danp on December 05, 2011 8:57 AM:

    There was a lot of disquiet in that room.

    There should be a lot of disquiet. After all, how do you pretend to be principled representatives of the districts when your rhetoric is so at odds with your actions, and they're both at odds with reality and the people you represent?

  • DAY on December 05, 2011 9:08 AM:

    "I am a life long teetotaler- except, of course, for beer, wine, and whiskey. . ."

  • Terry on December 05, 2011 9:22 AM:

    Seems to me a tacit admission by Repubs that we need taxes to run the country... they just don't want the wealthy to be saddled with that burden.

  • Trollop on December 05, 2011 9:25 AM:

    When is somebody (you know, one of our "leaders") going to tell the GOP to go fuck themselves? It was good enough for Dick Cheney!

    These people are sociopathic assholes, I don't think Andrea Mitchell is ever going to spell that out on the tee-vee..

  • Kathryn on December 05, 2011 9:41 AM:

    CW wrong again, what a shock! The Democratic message machine, such as it is, had better power up as Martin suggests. Where is the Democratic Frank Luntz, he or she doesn't have to be a lying hack like Luntz, just a competent wordsmith, short and punchy, repeat, repeat, repeat? And yet I am forever disappointed by so called Democratic spokespeople even on MSNBC. They are often bland while the GOP liars talk rings around them, not to mention the GOP creeps talk and talk and talk, you can't shut them up. So maybe short and punchy is only part of what's needed, follow short and punchy with so many words, the GOP doesn't even get a chance to lie. Mostly, the Democrats rarely seem to be consistent with their points, they should be in lockstep, is that so damn much to ask?

  • Eric on December 05, 2011 9:49 AM:

    At some point, the Democrats have to just let Republicans do their worst, and run on it. This used to be a democracy, and one of the surest way to make it one again is to have real choices at the voting booth.

  • Rich on December 05, 2011 10:58 AM:

    The GOPers preference for cutting rich peoples' taxes has been obvious for ages. That even liberal pundits have only recently sussed this out suggests the general stupidity of our political observers, as well as people like Kerry or Obama anxious for some kind of "deal".

  • Jimo on December 05, 2011 1:15 PM:

    'For their part, Senate Democratic leaders are reportedly crafting a compromise plan which, presumably, would not include a surtax on millionaires and billionaires to be presented today."

    Why are Dems so bad at politics?

    A compromise deal would double the tax cut and double the surtax while secretly being willing to settle for the original Dem proposal when the GOP finds the heat unbearable.

    To make the heat unbearable, Dems would make a commercial almost identical to the Capital One ad about '50% more money - who does like more money?':

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