House Republicans voted to test the patience of struggling lower- and middle-class Americans once again Tuesday by failing to accept a bipartisan Senate bill that would have extended payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits.
Without a deal by the end of the year, 160 million Americans will see tax increases. Not only would that pinch hurt individual taxpayers, it would be a blow for a country still struggling to recover from a steep economic slide.
House GOP leaders deserve the blame for this latest Washington fiasco. Their political brinkmanship is so off the charts that even leading Senate Republicans are blasting them.
"Their actions will hurt American families and be detrimental to our fragile economy," Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., rightly concluded.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, expressed similar outrage. He was among the 89 senators who voted unequivocally last week to pass a bipartisan Senate bill that would have extended the payroll tax cuts for two months. Only 10 senators voted against the bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to take the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote this week, even though it granted him a concession -- that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline that the GOP favors be stepped up.
Despite that, House Republicans shifted their demands again and voted to send the bill to a conference committee, calling for more negotiation with the Senate.
Thankfully, no one appears to be falling for Boehner's attempted political sleight-of-hand. He says House Republicans can't support the Senate bill because it calls for a two-month extension of the cuts rather than a yearlong extension.
The speaker is being disingenuous. The Senate worked out its bipartisan bill in collaboration with Boehner. It won overwhelming support from even hard-line Senate Republicans, after the House refused to agree to yearlong extensions without tacking on unrelated anti-environmental bills and other toxic riders.
So, in effect, the two-month extension was a short-term solution to extend the benefits until Congress could come to an agreement on a bill that would extend the cuts through next year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signed off on the bipartisan bill, although he's now distancing himself from the vote faster than you can say "flip-flop."
Meanwhile, America sorely needs a long-term fiscal policy that puts the country on a sustainable course without threatening the fragile economic recovery in the short term.
But the summer's brutal budget battles and the failure of the congressional supercommittee to come to an agreement makes that an unrealistic expectation for this elected body.
Instead, we're left with stopgap measures.
A year ago, Congress first passed a temporary measure that reduced employees' share of the Social Security payroll tax by 2 percentage points in order to stimulate the economy. The rate will go back up to 6.2 percent unless Congress acts by the end of the month.
President Obama rightly called for a one-year extension of the tax cuts weeks ago. Now that Congress is at a stalemate, hope is dimming.
Boehner needs to step up, even if it means alienating himself from the powerful ultra-right wing of his caucus.
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