Changing the terms of the tax deal

Six months ago, Democrats and Republicans struck a deal on tax policy. Republicans would get a two-year extension on Bush-era tax rates — at the GOP’s demand, all of the costs were added to the deficit — and in exchange, Democrats would get a one-year extension of federal jobless benefits.

House Republicans have decided the terms of this deal should be revised.

The House Ways and Means Committee, on a strict Republican vote, recently passed a bill to let states use federal jobless money for other purposes, including tax cuts for business. This is a very bad idea at a time when the national jobless rate is 9 percent, and higher than that in 22 states. The $31 billion in yet to be paid federal benefits is desperately needed.

State unemployment benefits end after six months. Federal benefits, which average $293 a week, then kick in. In better times six months may be a reasonable period to expect a laid-off worker to find another job. But not these days. Right now, more than four million families depend on extended federal benefits to get by.

The argument from the House GOP is that by giving states the “flexibility” to cut off aid to the unemployed, states can let businesses off the hook for costs in their unemployment funds. Of course, Congress has other options, and Republicans choose to target aid to the jobless.

And we know why.

Republicans … aren’t looking to restore the funds to long-term solvency; they want to cut taxes no matter what the cost. And their business constituents — who have resisted paying unemployment taxes in good times as well as bad — don’t want to pay more taxes into the system, even after the economy has recovered.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been pushing against the GOP plan, noting, among other things, that House Republicans “want to renege” on their part of the tax deal from December.

In all likelihood, the GOP is once again investing time and energy in a measure that can’t get past the Senate and/or White House, but the party’s near-constant efforts to make things harder on the unemployed continues to be a sight to behold.