As you know, the White House's pursuit of a payroll tax cut extension, which many believed (based on their observation of how Washington has been working lately) would be met with a full round of obstruction and wrangling, was actually settled, quite unexpectedly, in a rather quick and orderly compromise. But that doesn't mean that all parties to the compromise are happy about it. Far from it!
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), of course, has continually suggested that the only reason anyone is having a discussion about cutting payroll taxes is because President Barack Obama's economic policies have failed. This Boehner does according to his wont, and I can't imagine that anyone expects him to make any other case. But yesterday, as the House prepared to pass the conference agreement that would pass the extension and send it to the president's desk for signature, he said something revealing:
Last fall, I said that the only reason we’re even talking about a payroll tax break or an extension of unemployment benefits is because the president’s economic policies have failed. I still believe that to be the case today. The agreement that's been reached to stop a tax hike on middle class Americans is a fair agreement and one that I support. I want to thank Chairman Camp and all of our conferees for all the work and effort they've put into this bill.
But let's be honest, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that's going to grow the economy and create jobs. Tomorrow's the third anniversary of the president's 'stimulus' bill and yet another reminder that we need to change course and focus on pro-growth economic policies and the types of bills that for months Republicans have been passing over to the United States Senate.
So let's get this straight: Boehner "supports" the "agreement" that will "stop a tax hike on middle class Americans." But! He says, "let's be honest, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that's going to grow the economy and create jobs." Everyone should note the separation here. Per Boehner, providing tax relief to the middle class -- while it may be swell for them, and even "fair" -- is something that has no beneficial impact on the economy or employment.
The implication here is that you're never helping the economy by giving the middle class an advantage of any kind. To Boehner's mind, it's not a good thing to put more money in the pockets of ordinary Americans, with which they could ... I'm just spitballing here ... buy stuff, increase demand and spur additional hiring. And yet, when I cast my mind back to the job creators we've talked to, they've made it pretty clear that they hire when they are profitable, and that in order to be profitable, people have to actually buy stuff.
To Boehner's mind, the only thing that can or should be done to aid the economy is funnel more taxpayer money to the wealthy "job creators," who somehow keep failing to get their s#!t together and make with the job creating, despite the fact that -- per Bruce Bartlett -- "by the broadest measure of the tax rate, the current level is unusually low and has been for some time." These job creators seem to be eternally in need of just a few hundred thousand dollars more, and then, the economy will really start to take off!
There will certainly be policy fights over matters that could end up adding to the tax burden of the sorts of people that Boehner considers to be job creators -- such as when the next fight over the Bush-era tax cuts are engaged. At that time, there will be ample opportunity for everyone to have a thoroughly jaundiced argument over that. But what's striking about the payroll tax cut is that it doesn't burden the wealthy at all! It's just a measure of relief to middle class Americans. Which means that Boehner is deeply aggrieved at the opportunity cost here. He is literally upset that the government, in this instance, is giving back to ordinary Americans billions of dollars it could instead being giving to rich people. The indignity!
It's pure, mountain-grown petulance, and it should be a crystallizing moment for everyone.
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