What are they thinking?
Republicans in the House of Representatives have backed out on what was supposed to be a done deal to extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months. Nothing doin', they say. They want a year-long deal or nothing at all.
Can they seriously be willing to settle for nothing and be portrayed in election campaign ads as the wackos who raised taxes on every working person in the country and cut off unemployment checks for millions of desperate, jobless Americans? Do they really think nothing is better than something? Do they really think compromise is a dirty word?
Regardless what you might think about the long-term wisdom of cutting payroll taxes (the 6.2 percent of your paycheck that goes to Social Security and Medicare), refusing to extend the tax cut at the beginning of an election year is political suicide. Yet, the Republican lemmings in the House are lining up to take a flying leap off that cliff. The tax cut to 4.2 percent for individuals was passed last year as part of a stimulus package. For a typical American worker, it amounts to about an extra $20 in each week's pay. Economists say that extra jolt has encouraged consumer spending and helped avoid a fall into another recession.
But the real jolt will come in early January, when the first paychecks of the year arrive and 160 million Americans see less money in their paychecks. House Republicans will bear the brunt of public anger over that short-changing. Inevitable GOP efforts to blame Democrats are unlikely to stick. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the tax cut extension, with broad Republican support. Only in the dysfunctional House were serious objections raised. There, the ideological principle was more important than pragmatic politics. Some among the true believers elected in 2010 seem to believe pragmatism is a dirty word, but it's what gets you elected, and it's what allows government to function.
Unless the House has a change of heart, the Tea Party partisans may have just sealed the 2012 election and opened wide a door for Democrats that just last year had seemed closed and locked.