GOP blocks payroll tax break plans

The Senate held two votes on extending a payroll tax cut for more than 160 million Americans, most of whom are middle class. As expected, Republicans killed them both. What was unexpected, though, was the vote totals on the proposals.

First up was the Democratic plan, which would have kept the payroll break in place for another year, and pay for it with a slight surtax on millionaires and billionaires. A 51-member Senate majority supported the bill, but that was far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

It’s worth noting that one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, broke ranks and supported the Dems’ proposal. Since the economic push began in earnest in early September, Collins is the first Republican senator to vote for any Democratic jobs proposal. It didn’t affect the outcome, but given the current climate, this is what constitutes progress in 2011.

Of course, the fact that nearly every Republican senator would rather raise taxes on 160 million people, than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more isn’t progress at all.

What was just as interesting was the next vote, when the Senate considered the GOP alternative, which would also keep the payroll break in place, but pay for it largely through a pay freeze on federal workers.

A Republican alternative, which would have extended the current more modest tax cut and slashed the federal payroll to pay for it, was rejected 78 to 20, with more than half of Republicans opposed.

Yep, most Republican senators opposed their own party’s legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters the other day there is now “a majority sentiment” within his caucus for continuing the payroll break, but that claim is now very much in doubt.

John Aravosis summarized the problem.

So a majority of Republicans voted against the Democratic plan to extend the payroll tax cut, and a majority of Republicans voted against even the Republican plan to extend the payroll tax cut.

In other words, the Republicans don’t want to extend the payroll tax cut at all. They want to raise taxes on every single working American. Not just the middle class — if you have a job, the GOP just voted to raise your taxes for Christmas.

This is not to say that the payroll tax cut is dead. On the contrary, both of last night’s Senate measures were largely test votes, intended to show where the parties stood in advance of the next round of negotiations.

But the result of this test is pretty clear: most GOP senators would prefer to see the payroll tax break disappear at the end of the month, regardless of warnings about its detrimental effect on the economy, and regardless of the position of their own party’s leadership. It’s going to make the coming search for a bipartisan solution that much more difficult.