U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner once again proved to America this week that he cares more about Republican ideology than helping the middle class through tough economic times.
The speaker led House Republicans to pass a much-needed payroll tax credit extension on Wednesday, but unnecessarily tacked on anti-environmental provisions, curbs on unemployment benefits and changes in Medicare.
In doing so, the speaker led the House down the same anti-middle class, partisan path that polarized Congress during this year’s budget debate. That bickering led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.
Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, quickly called the bill “dead on arrival.”
The president also rightly said he would reject a bill saturated with the Republican “ideological issues,” particular measures that claim to create jobs but in reality compromise the environment and Americans’ health.
Time is of the essence in passing the unemployment and payroll tax extensions. Until Congress acts by the end of the month, roughly 160 million middle-income Americans - including 3.1 million families in Minnesota – could see $1,000 more in taxes taken from their paychecks
At the same time, nearly 2.2 million unemployed Americans will lose benefits beginning in February unless Congress takes action. With so much on the line, and at a time when Congress’ approval rating is at 9 percent, this was no time for the tone-deaf House speaker to play the part of an obstructionist.
The 234-193 House vote wasn’t strictly along partisan lines. Ten Democrats aligned with the speaker, including Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, but 14 Republicans broke ranks and voted against the controversial bill.
Although both parties say the extensions are needed to help the U.S. economy continue its recovery, Republicans continue to throw hurdles into legislation.
After Wednesday’s vote, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat, rightly called the GOP bill “cynical legislation” whose title, the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act" was anything but that.
“Well, its benign title hides a dangerous underbelly,” he said in a press release. “The bill increases healthcare costs for millions of Americans. Seniors would be asked to pay over $30 billion more in health care over the next 10 years, and families would lose their insurance because of language that blocks part of the popular Affordable Care Act.”
Equally outrageous: Boehner’s bill pushed ahead with the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas. The Obama administration announced last month that it was tabling a decision on the matter until 2013.
While critics said the delay was Obama’s way of sidestepping a potential political nightmare until after the 2012 election, it’s really more complicated. For instance, Nebraska passed a law last month that called for altering the pipeline’s route, which requires additional environmental review.
Earlier this week, the National Republican Congressional Committee used the pipeline issue to launch an attack ad against Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat.
“Congress has a chance to pass the pipeline jobs law before Christmas,” the ad said. “But Collin Peterson is on the fence.”
Apparently oblivious to the negative impact of the GOP’s bill, Minnesota’s freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican, praised its passage.
“This bill is good for workers, Minnesota and America,” he said in a press release issued after the vote. Echoing that sentiment were Reps. Erik Paulsen and John Kline, also Minnesota Republicans.
Jobs, yes, but at what cost to the environment and our health? The pipeline issue needs to be vetted more thoroughly and this is not the time for that.