Wherever you go on news or business TV today, all the talk is about congressional "dysfunction" or the travesty of the House Republicans refusing to pass the Senate's utterly lame two month extension of a payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits, and a "doc fix" for Medicare.
Let's make this very clear, this is the House of Representatives functioning as it should -- and as dozens of freshmen members believe is their mandate from their constituents.
Just because senators in a rush to get home for the holidays passed a spineless, pointless bill which has the potential to create incredible confusion in payroll systems across the nation does not mean that the House should have gone along.
To be sure, messaging can be a problem for the GOP. It always is.
On the floor of the House, one Democrat called Republicans the "Grinches who stole Christmas" while another, the hyper-anti-intellecutal Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), said that the GOP had lit the Christmas tree on fire. And in today's winning entry for mixed metaphor award, Lee said that Republicans were causing Americans to "drown in dusty and dark waters." I kid you not.
In a brief press conference after the House vote to appoint conferees to work out a deal with the Senate -- in a conference which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says will not happen unless the House passes the Senate bill first -- a reporter asked John Boehner about President Obama's saying that House Republicans should be more helpful, to which Boehner said, with an unusually aggressive edge, "I need the president to help out."
Democrats everywhere are crying crocodile tears about a tax hike of over $1000 for the average American because of House Republicans' actions. But, like everything Democrats say about economic policy, it is a lie. The $1000 number represents roughly the average benefit for a full year of the tax cut extension. For two months, the amount is about $160.
When it comes to this payroll tax cut, to extending unemployment benefits, and to a "doc fix", no deal is better than the Senate deal. I, for one, am very happy to see the House Republicans stand up for economic common sense by arguing that a two month tax policy could be as damaging due to the uncertainty it causes as beneficial due to its economic impact.
And even that begs the question of the economic value of one of the most Keynesian tax cuts possible, focused only on consumption rather than on encouraging production or employment.
Nobody needs this payroll tax cut extension more than Barack Obama. He wants to run as the champion of the middle class and as a tax cutter, as laughable as that is. So while he'll try to argue that Republicans are obstructionists, people will also see this as yet another complete failure of him to lead. Now Obama will be in the uncomfortable position of possibly needing to nudge Harry Reid to walk back his promise not to bring the Senate back this year.
Of the two positions, the House has the better economic policy than the Senate, simply because it doesn't try to enact tax policy two months at a time. When it comes to the political "optics", Republicans will have to do a better job than they usually do of making Americans understand why they're not political Grinches, burning Christmas (and Hanukkah, for my tribe), and drowning people in dusty waters. The story is there to tell if they can only find the words.
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