Senate GOP blocks payroll tax break plans (again)

Last week, 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 both the Democratic plan and the alternative crafted by the GOP leadership.

Today, it happened again. Republicans were unimpressed with the new, scaled-back Democratic plan, as well as the proposal from their own caucus’ leaders.

Though most GOP senators oppose extending and deepening the current payroll tax cut, set to expire January 1, 2012, enough of them back the idea that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell paired the Democrats’ bill with competing legislation that proposes paying for the tax holiday by shrinking the federal workforce by 10 percent, freezing federal pay, and means-test federal support programs, including Medicare, for wealthy Americans. Before the votes the Obama administration issued official policy statements announcing support for the Dem bill, and opposition to the GOP’s.

The vote on the Democrats’ bill was 50-48 — the narrowest majority, but not enough to overcome a GOP filibuster…. The GOP bill went down in flames, 22-76.

The Democratic proposal picked up one Republican, Maine’s Susan Collins, while every other GOP senator, including the alleged moderates, backed their party’s filibuster. The Republican leadership’s proposal didn’t get any Democratic support.

It’s hard not to get the impression that 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.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement:

“Republicans showed yet again that they are more interested in passing tax cuts for millionaires than tax cuts for the middle class. Senate Republicans rejected two proposals to give middle-class families a tax cut. And House Republican leaders had to entice their members into supporting their proposal by weighing it down with a laundry list of policies whose sole purpose are scoring points against President Obama.

“House Republicans’ bill is a partisan joke that has no chance of passing the Senate, but middle-class families facing a thousand-dollar tax hike on January 1st are not laughing. Instead of playing political games, Congress should work to find common ground. In the days ahead, I intend to do exactly that.”

For the record, the tax break is set to expire in 23 days and 8 hours. Lawmakers and their aides probably should start reevaluating their holiday travel plans.