- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

All a Democrat wants for Christmas is a two-month deal. A two-month deal. Republicans want a full year. The payroll-tax holiday is set to expire in 11 days, but on Saturday, the Senate evaded its responsibility by giving Americans a break only until the end of February. President Obama has asked repeatedly for another year of this toothless tax cut but switched to these shenanigans to buy himself extra time in the election year to campaign against a dysfunctional Congress. House Republicans won’t bite.

House Speaker John A. Boehner refuses to go along with the Senate plan, saying on Monday, “The idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is the kind of activity we see here in Washington that’s really put our economy off of its tracks.”

The Ohio Republican predicted a House vote scheduled for Monday night on the Senate-passed bill would fail, at which point the two chambers’ differing versions would go to a conference committee for a compromise to be worked out. He wants the tax holiday to go until 2013 and asked, “Why do we always have to go to the lowest common denominator?”

It’s unclear how the conference committee will meet before the Jan. 1 deadline because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed the upper chamber on Saturday for a monthlong holiday. Mr. Boehner said, “I think it’s time for the Senate Democrat leaders to follow the president’s example, put their vacations on hold and work in a bipartisan manner to finish the nation’s business.” Soon after, Mr. Reid released a statement saying he wouldn’t negotiate a yearlong deal until the House passed the short-term measure.

The House bill extends the tax cut, unemployment benefits and the “doc fix” for a full year, along with a mandate that Mr. Obama make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline within 60 days. The Senate bill extends those things but only until Feb. 29.

The lower chamber’s bill has smart reforms to stop unemployment payouts from becoming a new, permanent, unaffordable entitlement program. Federal Unemployment Insurance would be scaled back gradually so the maximum length for the handout would go back to 59 weeks from the current 99. The bill also would require the unemployed to look for a job and get a GED certificate if they don’t have one.

The House legislation is fiscally responsible in including spending offsets that shrink government, including continuing a pay freeze on federal workers, making sure illegal immigrants don’t get checks from the Internal Revenue Service and preventing millionaires from receiving food stamps or unemployment checks.

In contrast, the Senate bill doesn’t cut any spending but instead ostensibly offsets the $30 billion two-month extensions by raising the fees for the next 10 years on homeowners who take out a mortgage with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Under this scheme, the tax holiday and unemployment benefits just take money from new homeowners and put it in someone else’s paycheck or unemployment check. This is redistribution of wealth, not an economic boost.

Although the payroll tax holiday is an ineffectual economic stimulant, the GOP is politically cornered by the president’s tax-break rhetoric. So long as they’re going along with it, Republicans should fight to make the break for all of 2012 and balance it by cutting spending.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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