‘It’s going to be pointless’

The way the fight over the payroll tax break is going, lawmakers, their aides, White House staffers, and reporters should probably start revisiting their holiday travel plans. At this point, there are really only two points of agreement: (1) policymakers need to succeed by the end of the month; and (2) they’re nowhere close to an agreement.

Senate Republicans have now voted down four tax-cut bills in two weeks. In the House, matters are arguably worse.

Pivoting to challenge President Obama and Senate Democrats, House Republicans said Thursday that they would forge ahead with a payroll tax holiday bill that includes an oil pipeline opposed by the president and that looks to changes in social programs to pay for the tax cut and added unemployment benefits.

In a sharp answer to several failed bills produced by Senate Democrats that would cut an employee’s share of the payroll tax and impose a new surcharge on income over $1 million, the House Republican bill would pay for the extension through a mix of changes to entitlement programs and a pay freeze for federal workers.

House GOP lawmakers are so against extending a middle-class tax cut, they’re insisting on all kinds of goodies for themselves — adding that if their rewards are taken away, they’ll kill the overall proposal, no matter the consequences for the nation’s economy.

Indeed, the ransom note is starting to look like a spoiled kid’s list for Santa: Republicans want the Keystone XL pipeline and weaker toxic-air safeguards and a ban on future EPA standards on toxic-air pollutants and a premium increase for wealthier Medicare beneficiaries and a federal employees pay freeze and a reduction in the federal workforce and a sharp reduction in the maximum duration of jobless benefits.

And if they don’t get all of this, 160 million Americans will have less money in their paychecks starting on Jan. 1.

Could this House bill pass the Senate and earn President Obama’s signature? Of course not. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), literally the only Republican on Capitol Hill who’s been reasonable on this issue, said yesterday, “It’s going to be pointless if the House sends over bills that the Senate cannot or will not pass.”

The House GOP is a big fan of “pointless.”

Nine days ago, after the Republican leadership in both chambers endorsed a payroll-cut extension, the Wall Street Journal said the announcement “virtually assures that American wage-earners will continue to receive the benefit next year.” Let this be a reminder: when sensible policymaking is dependent on congressional Republicans being responsible, premature optimism is never wise.