This Week’s Hot-Button: Payroll Tax Extension a Done-Deal

WASHINGTON, DC – For the past several weeks, Washington was once again in a state of gridlock when partisan members came to a stalemate after being unable to reach an agreement on the extension of the payroll tax holiday.

Undoubtedly, this was the hot-button issue of the week, however disarray between Republicans in the House and the Senate came to an end late yesterday after Speaker John Boehner agreed to a two-month extension and continued negotiations upon their return to the capital in January.

“I’ve stated consistently that it was critical that Congress not go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million working Americans,” said Obama in an official statement released by the White House. “Because of this agreement, every working American will keep his or her tax cut. That’s about $40 in every paycheck.”

Despite continued polling of Congress at such low approval levels, Republicans created a legislative mess when fundamentally opposing the two-month extension worked out in the Senate, and may have damaged their chances at keeping the upper hand over President Obama.

“When Congress returns, I urge them to keep working to reach an agreement that will extend this tax cut and unemployment insurance for all of 2012 without drama or delay.”

It seemed even as late as yesterday morning that Boehner would not move on the issue.

“A one-year bill, like the President requested and like the House produced, is simply better for jobs and better for our economy,” Boehner said in a statement yesterday morning.

“As importantly, a one-year bill would provide certainty for American employers as they begin to plan for next year.  A two month extension only perpetuates the uncertainty that too many employers already have in dealing with the economy and what’s coming out of Washington.”

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown blasted his colleagues in the House for playing politics over people’s finances, calling opposition by those in the House as “irresponsible”.

“The refusal to compromise now threatens to increase taxes on hard-working Americans and stop unemployment benefits for those out of work,” Brown said. “The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong.”

While Brown praised Speaker John Boehner and his caucus for trying to extend the measure for a full year, he said “a two-month extension is a good deal when it means we avoid jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of American families”.

Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, important to conservatives, chastised Republican lawmakers for their handling of the payroll tax matter,

“At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation.”

They even went as far as to question whether or not Republicans and their leaders would have an easy path to victory in 2012.

“Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago, and the chances of Mr. McConnell becoming Majority Leader in 2013 are declining.”

What was unclear to many was why our elected-officials were not standing up for what most Americans wanted Congress to do: vote to continue the payroll tax reduction, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released last week. The issue is just the latest instance in which lawmakers allowed partisan politics to hold up a policy Americans support. On the brink of an election, a good majority of Americans are disappointed and frustrated, with 6 out of 10 saying they are “angry” with Congress for their behavior.

In his statement yesterday, Obama thanked the American people for their role in this debate, noting they wanted and asked for the extension.

“I want to thank every American who raised your voice to remind folks in this town what this debate was all about.  It was about you. And today, your voices made all the difference.”

I think Representative Ed Markey, a Malden Democrat, put it best in a release yesterday following the announcement by Republican leaders.

“With visions of 2012 voters dancing in their heads, House Republicans have finally come to their senses. As it was in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, House Republicans saw what the world would like in 2013 if they raised taxes on 160 million Americans: a world with far fewer Republicans in Congress.

“Let’s hope Republicans will honor this holiday season compromise in their hearts, and try to keep it all the year.”

For all his problems, this was exactly what President Barack Obama needed this holiday season: a little unexpected help from the opposition in making the case why the election of 2012 is going to be a referendum on not just the executive branch, but Congress as well.


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