Many House Republicans never wanted in the first place to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, nor to extend jobless benefits for three million more. They proved that emphatically this week by refusing even to call for a vote on the bipartisan Senate bill to temporarily extend the cuts, which was passed last Saturday pending negotiation of a longer-term measure. So unless House Republicans have a change of heart before New Year's Day, federal payroll taxes will rise for working Americans across the land, and the long-term jobless will be left dangling in the dead of winter without critical resources.
That should not be allowed to happen. Loss of the tax break is certain to hurt the economy by slowing the fragile momentum that has been building throughout the latter half of the year. That's something no rational lawmaker should want to occur.
The tax break, moreover, is specifically designed to help America's middle class. For an average household with an annual income of $50,000, it provides around $1,000 a year in extra cash. That money presently is going directly into consumer spending, helping to fuel the economy and boost job growth.
The Republicans' move to abruptly end the tax break while joblessness still hovers around 9 percent can only be taken as a slap in the face for ordinary taxpayers, and as an attempt to derail economic recovery during the critical run-up to the 2012 presidential election. That's as blatantly partisan and wrong-headed as political sabotage gets.
Yet the prospects for reversing course in the House are not good. GOP leaders there, to be sure, are running a daily sham show, briefly opening the House with a skeleton crew for work to make a mock demand for senators to return from their Christmas adjournment, supposedly to craft a another bipartisan bill that might yet please the House.
This daily fakery not only defies belief. It further confirms Republicans' disinterest in calling back their own House lawmakers, who themselves have already returned home, to actually debate and vote on the Senate bill. In any case, the previous House bill on the measure was also deliberately designed to fail. It came freighted with purely punitive spending and regulatory cutbacks, largely in response to Democratic proposals to offset the cost of the payroll tax cuts to the Social Security trust fund by raising taxes moderately on America's super-rich earners.
In essence, the legislative battle over current tax cuts has come to this: Democrats want to fund the cost of the payroll tax cut for ordinary Americans by getting a little more in taxes from the multi-millionaires who got the lion's share of the Bush 2001-2003 tax cuts. To do that, they would let the high-end Bush tax cuts expire for the top 1 percent -- a position the Senate has put on hold for two months, or impose a surtax.
Republicans, by contrast, refuse to ask the super-rich to give back some of their outrageous profits from the Bush tax cuts. But they would allow the payroll to tax-cut for the middle-class expire on Jan. 1.
Republicans are now effectively hung over their wish to maintain unaffordable tax cuts for the nation's super-rich, even if it means hurting the middle class and sabotaging the economy at the same time. Voters should not forget how skewed the terms of current Republican partisanship have become.