Payroll tax mess
Look all around Washington and it will be difficult to find someone who overtly opposes an extension of the current reduction in the federal payroll tax. Yet, as this is written, it seems increasingly likely that this tax cut, the one that provides the most benefit to struggling families and has the greatest potential to light at least a small fire under the limping economy, may be about to die.
And the reason for that is that many members of Congress are holding the tax measure hostage to unrelated arguments over issues that ought not even be part of this debate.
Did we mention that the latest Gallup poll puts the public approval rating of Congress at 11 percent? That's not only a record low, it is about the only thing that makes President Obama's 43 percent approval rating look good.
Among those creating this petulant roadblock is Utah's Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The vocal-beyond-his-years congressman is a leading light of the revolt that not only undercut the credibility of his own party's leader Speaker John Boehner but also threatens to slap millions of working households with an unwise and unnecessary tax hike right after the holidays.
With the Dec. 31 deadline looming and members eager to knock off for the holidays, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate struck a deal, backed by the White House. It would not only extend the lower tax rate for two months, it would also extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and throw in the annual measure protecting doctors from a huge cut in Medicare reimbursement rates. And it would pay for it all by imposing a small fee on federally backed mortgages.
On Friday, Boehner was for the deal. By Sunday, unable to deliver the bomb-throwers on the right wing of his caucus, he was against it. On Tuesday, the House killed the measure and demanded a parlay with senators to win changes such as cuts in unemployment benefits and other spending items. But that's unlikely, as the Senate has adjourned for the year and its leaders in both parties are miffed that the deal they thought they had worked out with Boehner has been thrown back in their faces.
The relative stability of a tax cut that lasts at least a year, which House members also want, would be an improvement, but is clearly unattainable right now. The fight is a clear example of how the perfect, or even the marginally better, can be the enemy of the good, or the acceptable.
Watch your pay stubs. If your FICA tax bite goes up next month, you can blame the House Republicans, including Jason Chaffetz.