Friday, December 23, 2011

The Impossible Takes Longer

Once again RWA1 has come through for me (unintentionally, of course), this time with a link to a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the "GOP's Payroll Tax Fiasco: How did the Republicans manage to lose the tax issue to Obama?"
The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.
The writer labels Obama's payroll tax cut as a "tax holiday," which is fair enough. He could have done the same of Bush's tax holiday for the rich, which the Republicans have been so insistent on prolonging, but the writer chooses instead to see the expiration of the tax holiday as a tax increase. Such deliberate obfuscation doesn't help solve our problems, but it may help explain why the Republicans are in such trouble politically right now.

Most Americans favor higher taxes for the wealthy, and the Republicans have been vocal and self-righteous about opposing them. Obama has not been particularly clever in exploiting this, but he didn't need to. Most of us, regardless of our party, have seen the same people who nearly destroyed the world economy carry on almost untouched by the depression. While unemployment rose and people lost their homes by often dubious foreclosures, CEOs and other executives were given extravagant bonuses, even when their companies lost money or collapsed altogether. The Republicans called for more austerity, resisted extensions of unemployment benefits, blocked even Obama's tepid stimulus measures, and fussed over the deficit while many people lost hope for their future. Democratic operatives have been working themselves into a vindictive frenzy because Obama has been criticized from the left, but not to worry: the Republicans have worked hard to make themselves less popular than Obama.

Apart from the propaganda in pro-Obama media, I've been getting e-mail from the source, denouncing the Republicans for wanting to raise "a typical family's taxes by more than $1,000 next year" by letting the payroll tax holiday expire. Obama, by contrast, wants to "[e]xtend and expand the tax cut, helping 160 million people and letting that same family keep $1,500." That's all very nice, and I like extra money as much as anyone else, but even $1,500 is not that much money. It's just over $100 a month, which is not going to help a family with children very much. Of course Obama's playing politics with his tax holiday, but so did the Bush administration, which tried to distract attention from its service to the top 1% with a couple of "tax rebates" -- remember those? -- in 2001 and 2008, which gave the typical family a one-time payment of a few hundred dollars. (Three hundred in 2001, three hundred to 1200 in 2008.) Besides, lowering the payroll tax means lowering the amount of money that goes into the Social Security fund, which is not a good idea to put it gently. (According to Josh Bivens, though, "the legislation that cut the payroll tax also instructed Treasury to credit the Trust Fund for the lost revenue – but since when has being factually wrong defanged a political argument? And who’s to say that the next year of payroll tax cuts will maintain this commitment to hold the Trust Fund whole?")

The op-ed writer also talks about the huge tax increases that will happen in 2013 if the Republicans can't find a way to win the public's confidence. Nothing he mentions suggests that the top brackets are going to pay a lot more if their tax holiday expires, and with good reason: their top marginal rates weren't that high before the holiday, certainly compared to what they were in the 1960s. I'm also skeptical about the writer's claim that Obama has "spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases," which is familiar right-wing boilerplate. They were saying it in 2009, and it was false then. The WSJ editorial page has never been known for factual accuracy either -- rather the opposite.

The writer had some recommendations for the Republicans, which RWA1 endorsed. Here they are:
At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation. Wisconsin freshman Senator Ron Johnson has been floating a useful agenda for such a strategy. The alternative is more chaotic retreat and the return of all-Democratic rule.
All-Democratic rule!? Oh, noes! While I was writing this post the news went out that the Republicans did cut their losses and extended the payroll tax holiday. ABC News reported that
A muted House Speaker John Boehner announced today that Republicans have decided to accept a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut, preventing a hike in taxes just nine days before the tax break expires for 160 million Americans.
Boehner has a mute button? Why weren't we told this before? But I don't think the Republicans are going to have much success highlighting "the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation," because the Republican "differences" are political concrete overshoes. Not that I'm concern trolling here, mind you. I'm perfectly happy to see the Republicans suffer a humiliating defeat on everything, so I can concentrate more on criticizing the Democrats.

By the way, the WSJ also features something I can't resist passing along: "How to Sneak in Sports on Christmas", by one Jason Gay (which must be a pseudonym). It's sort of like the op-ed piece: how to do what you want to do, no matter what anyone else thinks, while still feeling totally justified and put-upon.
There are 13 NFL games on Christmas Eve, and five juicy season-opening NBA contests on Christmas Day, and at some point, you're going to be following a game on your TV, or your phone, or your high-tech germ tablet, and a disapproving person is going to scold you and tell you to shut that thing off and show some respect. And you will feel ashamed, and promise to pay close attention for the rest of church, or your child's first Christmas.
"In church"? Jason Gay is visualizing some guy in the pews with an iPod plugged into his ear, hunched over the tiny screen as he pretends to be kneeling in prayer. Will Tim Tebow be playing on Christmas Day? Where are the War on Christmas partisans? Somebody call the American Family Association! It's hard to believe that Jason Gay isn't writing satire, but he seems to be entirely serious.

I count myself lucky, though. If I were attending a normal American family Christmas, I'd probably be stuck among people who made those games a family activity, and I'd be trying to sneak in some reading against their attempts to shame me for not caring about the "important games."