Republicans finally found a tax increase they like

I thought I had Republican orthodoxy down pretty clear: No tax increase is ever acceptable and allowing a tax cut to expire is the same as a tax increase.

That, anyway, is how the GOP feels about the Bush tax cuts, which had a built-in expiration date. Any talk of letting those cuts expire – even just the portion of cuts aimed at the highest incomes – resulted in shrieks of agony and anguish.

But, suddenly, that orthodoxy seems confused. There is a tax cut that Republicans – at least the radical Republicans in the House – not only are ok with allowing to expire, they’re practically demanding it.

It’s a working class tax cut: President Obama, congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans all want to extend the payroll tax cut enacted last year. That tax cut shows up in most American’s paychecks, and especially benefits those making under $100,000 (because you only pay Social Security taxes on the first $100,000 or so of income). Democrats wanted to pay for it with a minuscule increase on taxes for millionaires, but Republicans rejected that.

Still, the Senate came to a bipartisan agreement to extend the tax cuts for two months while Congress worked on a way to pay for it for the rest of the year. The Senate leadership endorsed the plan, and it passed with 89 votes – an unheard of level of unanimity in today’s partisan gridlock.

House Speaker John Boehner had asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to work out an agreement with Majority Leader Harry Reid. Read and McConnell did their part. But it turns out that Boehner once more was unable to lead his radical caucus. They don’t like this tax cut, for reasons they really can’t seem to explain. In order to pass it, they’re insisting on all sorts of political concessions they couldn’t otherwise win – like forcing President Obama to move ahead on the Keystone Pipeline (a really bad idea for many reasons). In other words, once again, Republicans are taking political hostages. If they don’t get what they want, the deal may crash (unless a couple dozen sensible Republicans can be found in the House to vote for what Republicans usually love to vote for: a tax cut.) As a result, your paycheck will be smaller in January, as will everyone else’s. That will stifle economic demand and perhaps snuff out the floundering recovery. As Ezra Klein said, “That’s when the 112th Congress stops being bad at its job and becomes an active impediment to the recovery.”

Republicans may think that will be good for their efforts to retake the White House, but I think they’re wrong. Even though a bad economy usually hurts the incumbent president, the Republican presidential primary is a joke. Newt Gingrich is a frontrunner? In what messed-up universe is that even possible? The Republicans clearly don’t have a viable candidate to face Barack Obama. Tearing down the American economy won’t change that, especially since more Americans are coming to the stunning realization that Republicans appear to want to hurt the economy on purpose for purely partisan political gain. If that realization holds through November, I doubt Americans will be in the mood to reward the GOP at the ballot box.

Hopefully, Americans will also remember that, while congressional Republicans brought the nation to the brink of economic catastrophe during the debt ceiling debacle over their refusal to slightly increase taxes on the wealthy as part of a huge deficit-reduction deal, House Republicans are now fighting to increase the taxes of American workers.

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