The Corner

Re: The Payroll Tax Mess

Jonah, thanks for pointing out the salient feature of this flap — that the Democrats have undermined their own arguments about the true nature of the Social Security program (turns out it really is a tax-based welfare program, not a dedicated, contribution-based retirement program), and that the Republicans either ought to take them up on it, or flip the thing one more time and pose as the principled champions of Keeping Social Security Solvent. You write:

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. 

I made a similar point right here just the other day:

It’s all political Kabuki, of course. Obama wants to paint the congressional Republicans as tax-raising hypocrites, so naturally they’re scattering in fear. But have they thought this thing through? (Rhetorical question.) Do they really want the paying suckers to finally realize that Social Security is a fraud?

Seems to me the GOP would like to have it both ways, but isn’t clever enough to figure out how to do it.

The kicker is that the “payroll tax” cut isn’t really a cut at all. Not only is it a “holiday” (although Obama’s proposal to make it even larger gives the game away), but so far it’s been “paid for” by the government’s making up the shortfall with general-fund taxes and borrowed money. Some cut!

So the GOP really has a twofer here, both halves of which they’re blowing. They’re not making enough hay about the shovel-ready Keystone pipeline and they’re not “quietly celebrating this strategic blunder,” as you so aptly put it, that reveals Social Security’s congenital philosophical flaw.

But then, I expect no strategy from “Republican strategists,” just advice on tactics. They seem to know everything about elections except why we actually have them. 

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.

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