James Sasso, Associate Editor
For one of the first times in his tenure as Speaker, John Boehner has made a statement with which every American, Republican or Democrat, should fully agree; the two-month Senate bipartisan extension of the payroll tax cut fails to fix the nation’s problems sufficiently. Providing a short-term band-aid to a long-term dilemma contradicts what a responsible government should accomplish, but fits the pattern of contemporary American politicking. During this Congress especially, legislators have continuously relied on “answers” that only prevent imminent catastrophe, but neglect to negotiate solutions that address the less-immediate problems. Think of the budget “deal” this summer with the “super committee.” That agreement kept the government solvent for a short while by appropriating the necessary funds without fundamentally altering the culture of Washington. This, then, led to three times over the course of 2011 when Congress came close to shutting down government, because of the partisan stalemate that occurs whenever legislators need to appropriate federal money.
So, although Mr. Boehner has been no enemy to the short-term solutions, he is right to call for an end to the “kicking the can down the road,” which Congress continues to favor. However, House GOP members’ reasons for blocking the two-month extension, which remains ultimately beneficial for the country due to the impossibility of a one-year compromise extension, actually appear quite ideological. Sadly, the House GOP has decided to play partisan games with the extension.
Despite the laudable rhetoric of wanting long-term solutions that actually address America’s myriad of problems, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans have mistakenly attempted to use the blocked extension as a way to embarrass President Obama and the Democrats. As the party of tax cuts, the GOP would seem hypocritical if they rejected this middle-class tax cut, while defending millionaires from having to pay higher taxes. The House GOP’s real reason for disapproving of this compromise bill lies in its spending provisions. The GOP do not want any more government spending, and the House believes that the two-month extension leaves too many victories for the Democrats. The House caucus wants to limit the unemployment benefits available for American citizens so that the maximum weeks a person could receive this unemployment lifeline would be 59 weeks. They also seek to weaken President Obama’s health care bill by using some of its appropriated funds to pay for the payroll tax cut. They desire additional spending cuts and even hope to insert environmental clauses that would prevent the EPA from monitoring and regulating pollutants like Mercury in the air. It does not appear that the House GOP hates the idea of a tax cut for the middle class, but that they do not want to hand the Democrats this political victory.
The Republicans’ rhetoric attempts to protect their “anti-tax” image by accusing the Democrats of putting short-term solutions ahead of the interest of Americans. They argue that by blocking the bill, the GOP House would prevent further harm to the economy. The temporary compromise would cause future political arguments and economic woe in two months, when the parties have to address the issue once more. Boehner’s speeches portrayed a desire to prevent these battles, which is laudable, but failing to enact the two month extension will hurt the economy and Americans. Thus, he attempts to blame Democrats for not passing a one-year extension and hopes to make them appear to be the party that caused any future economic problems.
Such a strategy, though, oversteps the line of an intelligent oppositionist. Republicans already won a Democratic concession that the extension would contain a provision calling on President Obama to make a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline within the next 60 days. Also, Republican intransigence concerning increased taxes, stopped the Senate from paying for the middle class tax cut through a millionaires’ tax. Senate Republicans, as shown by their overwhelming support for the two month extension, which passed 89-10, believed that they had done very well. By passing the bill, they avoided the label of increasing taxes for the average American and managed to maintain their traditional conservative arguments of business trumping environment and the rich deserving more protections than the poor.
House Republicans are trying to shift the blame to the Democrats and the Senate. They are arguing that a two-month extension will do nothing but create uncertainty for job creators. While this argument holds a lot of truth, they will not be able to make the Democrats take the blame for this failure. Regardless of the stupidity of passing a two-month extension, it still benefits the economy and the American citizen much more than allowing the payroll tax cut to expire. Holding up the extension for its own political gains will only make the House GOP look worse. On this issue, one which splits Senate Republicans and House Republicans, the Democrats finally have found success. The Senate Democrats are holding firm to their statement that they will not come back to pass another bill; the ball is entirely in the court of the House GOP, which means that they will take the blame for the increased burden on the middle class American.
Wanting longer-term solutions is a justifiable and laudable desire, but using this benign wish to cover partisan demands wipes away the impressiveness of the GOP claim. If they really preferred a full year compromise bill, Republicans would actually have to compromise with the Democrats. If they actually hoped for long-term solutions instead of short-term patches, they would have to drop some of their extremist demands and move towards the center of the political spectrum. Their true reasons for blocking the two-month extension show that the House GOP has not learned this lesson. They still think compromise only involves Democrats conceding their legislative wishes. No amount of calling for a long-term solution can cover up their intransigence.