Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will do anything to score political points. A congressional conference committee has been brought to a standstill because the top Democrat in Congress refuses to allow his own members to negotiate a deal that includes spending cuts.
With little else on the Hill’s agenda this year, the Nevada Democrat is looking to blame the delay on Republicans. Mr. Reid’s tawdry tactics might make effective public relations, but they are disastrous for the economy.
Under Democratic control, Congress depleted the Social Security Trust Fund by $110 billion to cover for President Obama’s gimmicky tax break. This time around, House Republicans insisted on cutting spending to pay for the estimated $160 billion cost of extending the payroll-tax cut, unemployment and the “doc fix” that protects doctors from cuts in Medicare reimbursements. These items were previously extended for the first two months of 2012, so Congress is now negotiating how to pay for extending them through December.
Mr. Reid refuses to allow Democrats on the committee to agree to any spending cuts, thereby putting the whole package in jeopardy. House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday that, “We offset all of the costs of these programs, and most of the offsets came from the president. One can only wonder why Senate Democrats are dragging their feet and not coming forward with a plan.”
The big-ticket pay-fors discussed in the committee Tuesday include freezing federal employee pay for another year and increasing the amount they have to contribute to their pensions. Other GOP offers from their original bill include increasing Medicare premiums for upper-income individuals and increasing the maximum amount of subsidy overpayments that must be repaid to taxpayers under Obamacare.
The Democratic Senate leader has also undercut his own party, ordering his lead conferee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, not to make a deal with spending cuts, even the ones President Obama supports. Mr. Reid also said he was working on his own alternative legislation that would “be free of unrelated, ideological legislation designed to please the radical right” or “bogged down with sweeteners for the Tea Party.” Mr. Reid is deliberately stalling.
“It seems to me that Democrats in the Senate have sort of decided to link up with the Obama campaign and make sure that, on any bipartisan discussions that occur, it actually doesn’t lead to a bipartisan agreement,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “I think the reason for that becomes increasingly obvious: that they want to blame Republicans in Congress if nothing is accomplished.”
The payroll-tax cut isn’t going to spur the economy. Americans will just put that extra $20 a week in the bank or use it to pay the higher prices at the pump. Still, Republicans are right to insist that we not add to our already unsustainable debt load with this expensive policy. Even if Mr. Reid is winning the battle of words, his victory only damages the nation’s economic future.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times. She won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.
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