The Corner

The Payroll Tax Mess

Like pretty much everyone else, I’m peeved at the whole spectacle. Without rehearsing all of the points, there are three things I’ve been thinking about for a while. First, I agree with Dan’s reader, that the wedge-issue power of the pipeline (which I discussed here last week) has been wasted. 

Second, it seems to me that the House GOP should have pocketed that victory and then set the stage for the fight in February. I think Boehner should have come out a few days ago and said something like: “Look, this is bad legislation. We wanted a year-long pay cut and we wanted to pay for it. That’s the challenge the president threw at us and it’s the one the House Republicans met. But he balked because he’s in permanent campaign mode. Instead, before you know it, we’ll be back here in February fighting over this exact issue again. We’ll have done harm to the economy by promoting uncertainty and created paperwork havoc. But that is what the president and the Democrats running the Senate want. The president only cares about reelection and he’s put us in an untenable situation. If the Senate hadn’t run out of town on Obama’s orders we could fix this now. Instead, he kicked the can down the road and all I ask is that people remember that two months from now when we do this whole thing over again.”

Third, as I understand it, the president and the Democrats have conceded a core principle. By supporting a payroll-tax holiday that will be partly paid for out of general revenues, they’ve undermined the fiction that Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program. Some liberals, such as Bernie Sanders, are very upset about this. Oddly, some conservatives acknowledge this point but make it sound like that is a bad thing (Note: It’s not totally clear to me they think it’s a bad thing.) It seems to me Sanders is right to be miffed, given his ideological commitments. But I’m at a loss as to why conservatives shouldn’t be quietly celebrating this strategic blunder by the Democrats — very quietly.

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