Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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As if Americans haven’t seen enough dysfunction in Washington, House Republicans engineered a masterpiece Tuesday to round out the year. They rejected a bipartisan Senate plan that would have extended payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits for two months, giving lawmakers time to work out a longer-term deal.
House Republicans’ refusal was purportedly because they didn’t want to “kick the can down the road” and instead wanted a year-long deal. The reality is that they are using the measure to try to gain political leverage. They have tied the extension of cuts and benefits to several major policy issues that have met with strong opposition.
Republicans see it as a game — as Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Fla., said, “It’s high-stakes poker.” And they apparently think they can force the Democrats’ hand, as they have in the past. Consider the stakes: If the cuts and benefits aren’t extended by Jan. 1, 160 million workers will see their payroll taxes go up — likely between $700 and $2,300 a year — and 2.5 million unemployed Americans will see their benefits run out.
It’s shameful to see this as a political game. We can’t understand what Republicans in the House, including Nevadans Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, are thinking. Certainly, it would be better to have a year-long deal, but the failure of this plan would be terrible for average Americans. The Senate understood that — it passed on an 89-10 vote with 39 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting in favor of it.
Americans are tired of the gridlock and problems in Washington, and the House Republicans have been baffling. They say they want to spur the economy and create jobs, but how does blocking a two-month extension of cuts and benefits help anyone? Heaven forbid that Americans have more money to spend. That might actually spur the economy, and that would be ... bad?
The Republican leadership in the House refuses to take responsibility for its actions and instead is blaming everyone else — President Barack Obama, Democrats, the Senate. However, the Republican obstruction and demands for ideological purity have done nothing to create jobs, help the economy or improve consumer confidence. Instead, they have only frustrated the nation’s economic rebound because no one is sure what to expect out of the House but gridlock and brinkmanship.
These types of games rarely end well. Don’t House Republicans remember how well that type of brinkmanship worked for Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the House and forced a government shutdown in December 1995?
Or even how the nation’s credit rating dimmed and their own polls dropped after they pushed their own brand of brinkmanship earlier this year?
Apparently those lessons were lost on them.
This could easily be solved. Congress could hold an up-or-down vote on extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits — without any of the other demands Republicans have made. That would be fitting with the “Pledge to America,” in which House Republicans promised not to package “unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation” and said they would “advance major legislation one issue at a time.”
Unfortunately, the only issues we see Republicans advancing are their own political goals, which they’ve put ahead of the needs of most Americans.
So much for their pledge.