‘Payroll Tax, The Sequel’: Did either side learn any lessons from Part 1?
The impasse over the payroll tax cut sent the public approval rating for Congress to new depths even as it gave Obama a corresponding boost. But as negotiators reopen discussions for a longer deal, all bets are off.
Congress took its impasse over payroll tax cuts and other expiring provisions to the brink of raising taxes for some 160 million Americans, before House Speaker John Boehner gave in.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, with barely a pause, it all begins again.
Some 47 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling his job, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday. That’s up five points since the standoff with House Republicans over the payroll tax cut began.
By contrast, Congress wound up the year at an 11 percent approval rating – its lowest level since the Gallup organization began asking the question in 1974. Polls signal that the public blames Republicans more than Democrats for the dysfunction on Capitol Hill.
The deal that broke the impasse, first proposed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, extends expiring provisions for two months. It also commits House and Senate negotiators to work out a full-year extension of the payroll tax “holiday,” as well as expiring federal jobless benefits and a “fix” to block a 27.4 percent cut in payments to doctors serving Medicare patients.
But congressional leaders are signaling that key issues once viewed as resolved are back on the table for a new round of negotiations, casting doubt on whether a deeply divided Congress can – or even wants to – agree on the expiring provisions before the 2012 elections.
A key sticking point is how to pay for the $100 billion needed to extend these provisions for the balance of 2012. In the run-up to the two-month deal, Democrats publicly set aside demands to pay for extending the payroll tax cuts with a surtax on incomes over $1 million – a nonstarter for House Republicans.
On Friday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada told reporters that he had instructed his four Democratic conferees to allow “nothing off the table,” including higher taxes on the rich. “I’ve talked to Senate Republicans, plural, who think that that there should be a fair tax on rich people,” he said in a briefing on Dec. 23. “I am going to make sure that my conferees understand that that could be part of what we try to do, and we’ll see what happens.”
At the same time, Senator Reid said that Democratic negotiators would be revisiting a provision in the two-month agreement that calls for reducing federal jobless benefits from 99 to 79 weeks. “We couldn’t get it done otherwise,” he said. “And so we’ll come back and revisit that.”