‘Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes’

This lede in Charles Babington’s Associated Press article today probably isn’t what congressional Republicans wanted to see. It is, however, accurate.

News flash: Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes.

Impossible, right? GOP lawmakers are so virulently anti-tax, surely they will fight to prevent a payroll tax increase on virtually every wage-earner starting Jan. 1, right?

Apparently not.

Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different “temporary” tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.

The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a “payroll tax” on practically every dime they earn.

The piece goes on to quote Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who said it’s more important to worry about the deficit than a popular tax-cut policy.

The politics of this, as a result, are rather bizarre. President Obama has made this tax cut one of his top priorities, stressing its importance to the middle class, while Republicans are increasingly vocal about their desire to, by their own reasoning, raise middle-class taxes.

This policy, by the way, has traditionally been a Republican idea. What’s more, GOP leaders have not emphasized tax breaks over deficit concerns in general, but they’ve specifically prioritized this tax break over deficit concerns for years.

That is, until President Obama agreed with them, at which point they decided to once again oppose their own proposal.

As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently argued, “If they oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that helps create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

The result is a political problem for the already chronically-unpopular Republican Party. They’re not only fighting, by their own reasoning, for a middle-class tax increase, they’ll be waging this fight while opposing job-creation measures.

If I had to guess, I’d say Republicans probably support an extension of the payroll tax cut, but just aren’t willing to say so. Why not? Because then they lose leverage — GOP officials know the White House wants this, and if they simply agree to pass the measure, they won’t get anything extra out of the deal. Hostage strategies have become an instinctual norm for Republicans.

But the more news articles tell the public, “Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes,” the more likely it is GOP officials will cave.

Update: Kevin Drum makes the case that the GOP may genuinely oppose the tax break, and either way, it’s not really a “hostage” strategy. It’s a fair point.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.