I’m With Hillyer, And He’s With Boehner

From his perch at the Center For Individual Freedom, Quin Hillyer says he’s with Boehner and against the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove and the rest of the luminaries who think the Republicans have blown the politics on this payroll tax extension…

Am I the only one in the non-congressional conservative universe who thinks John Boehner and the House are doing the right thing and should stand firm, with regard to the payroll tax cut holiday? The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, and all sorts of other worthies are all saying that Republicans have totally lost the politics on this issue and that they should acquiesce to the Democrats’ two-month extension.

I say their prescriptions are wrong, and that Boehner and company should stick to their guns. First of all, there are times when principle should be more important than politics. In this case, somebody needs to act the role of the adult and insist that doing what is technically a complete recipe for disaster is just a total non-starter. There are ways to turn the politics around. Boehner could call a prime-time press conference and say aloud that he KNOWS everybody says this is a political loser, but that he MUST do what’s right, specifically because of the procedural problems for small businesses in implementing a mere two-month tax cut AND because he, unlike the Dems, thinks that the tax cut should be for a full year. AND, for that matter, that it ought to be fully paid for. Furthermore, he could add, he could pledge right now that if the Democrats — the Dems, the Dems, the Dems, not the Republicans — fail to extend the tax cut, then Republicans pledge to make it up to voters when the Dems finally come to their senses. In other words, he can say that the tax cut, whenever it is finally passed, will be made retroactive to cover any time lost due to the Dems’ rank political gamesmanship. It is far easier for the government to retroactively provide a tax cut of this sort (it has been done a number of times in recent years) than it is for millions upon millions of small businesses to set up a payroll-withholding system for just two months, which is what the Democrats propose.

Quin has this precisely right, and the kerfuffle over the loss of a news cycle or two the week before Christmas amid a presidential election year is something I find absolutely amazing.

Really, who cares about the temporary politics of the payroll tax cut extension? Politics matters as an election nears, and as Quin notes whatever damage gets done as a result of all the posturing and gamesmanship surrounding this issue can be repaired by making the payroll tax cut extension retroactive.

And does anybody really think idiotic bloviating like this from jackasses like Jim McDermott is going to change anybody’s opinion with any degree of permanence?

What matters is policy, not politics. And as Rep. Bill Cassidy noted here at the Hayride earlier today, process as well.

I differ with Quin a little on the ramifications of the payroll tax extension – from a political standpoint. Here’s his take…

(As for me, I think this is the stupidest tax cut in my adult lifetime — and I’m a 33-year Reagan-Kemp-Laffer supply-side tax cutter — and I think it would be better to work for permanent tax relief on another front rather than temporary relief that drains Social Security. But if there IS to be this tax cut, which seems politically to be almost mandatory now, then it is absolutely idiotic to do it the way the Democrats have done it. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP REALLY REALLY screwed up by agreeing to this monstrosity. It is they, not Boehner and company, who screwed up both the policy AND the politics on this.)

He’s spot on with respect to McConnell’s performance on this issue, and if this mess actually has any permanent effects the first one might be that McConnell is finally relieved of his position as the GOP’s leader in the Senate. It’s time for somebody who’s actually willing to fight Harry Reid tooth for tooth rather than constantly give ground the way McConnell does to take over, though I understand the composition of the GOP Senate is such that it might take 15-20 new Republicans before that’s even possible.

Where I disagree, though, is that I don’t see any mandate for a payroll tax cut that amounts to maybe $1,000 a year. That tax cut produced zero economic benefit in 2011; there is even less labor force participation now than there was before that “holiday” was declared, and meantime Congress has blown a hole in a Social Security trust fund which is already broke. An excellent case could be made that if the payroll tax cut was intended to have been permanent it would have been made so a year ago, and morons like McDermott need to be made to recognize that (1) he ain’t Santa Claus and (2) adults know that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. When the payroll tax cut was put in place it was public knowledge that it was only temporary; if the working poor he prattles on about expected to get that extra $20 a week or whatever pittance Uncle Sam was bestowing on them in a futile effort at producing economic growth, well…this wouldn’t be the first time those folks have been disappointed in their reliance on government.

If this thing is politically mandatory, it’s only because weak-minded Beltway Republicans believe the dinner-party crowd who says so. Conventional wisdom in DC is crafted by the Left; why Republicans continue to pay attention to it mystifies me. The public – or the segment of it which is willing to vote Republican – cares about deficits and too many people reliant on government; if this issue is crafted as a solvency and budgetary issue, you don’t even need a payroll tax cut and it’s not even desirable to have one because folks don’t want any more red ink.

The GOP has already done some work in this regard, though it’s shoddy work. Namely, they’ve insisted that the payroll tax cut extension be paid for with spending cuts. The Democrats kinda-sorta agreed to that in the Senate; namely, they agreed to enough pay-fors to fund a two-month extension but not enough for a whole year. That’s pathetic, of course, and it merely shows how intransigent on spending Harry Reid and his gang really are. That should be political gold for the GOP; what seems curious is why, in circumstances like this where several hundred millions of dollars need to be freed up to pay for a “politically mandatory” and yet picayune benefit like this a number of abjectly wasteful programs of an ideologically neutral nature can’t be illuminated and targeted for elimination by Congress as the price. Make the Democrats defend 86 teacher evaluation programs within the Department of Education, or agricultural giveaways to nobody, or whatever the obviously wasteful expenditures on the chopping block might be.

And Republicans ought to be wholeheartedly opposed to any further extension of unemployment benefits for those people who have already stayed on the dole far beyond any reasonable previous expectations. Turning unemployment insurance into de-facto welfare is a destructive, evil practice born of Democrat exploitation and Republican cowardice. It is costly, it makes the unemployed unemployable as their skills and work ethic atrophy over months of inactivity, it creates divisions between those who have work and those who don’t and it incentivizes people to participate in the underground cash economy while continuing to draw a government check.

The other part of this package is the “Doc Fix,” without which Medicare patients will shortly find themselves unable to access health care. But the Doc Fix should be worked on in its own right; it has no business in this debate.

And frankly, it’s a scandal that the Doc Fix should be a recurring spending item in the first place. The only reason we continue hearing about the Doc Fix is that nobody on Capitol Hill wants to accurately report the cost of Medicare. Medicare costs are published without the Doc Fix, and then it’s added later as a separate spending item. This is dishonest and disgraceful. Budget Medicare for what it will really cost, and let’s have an honest discussion about whether we should revamp the program before it breaks us.

The amazing thing is that the politics of this actually favors the Republicans. Put the Doc Fix up as a standalone, and pass a permanent Doc Fix through the House. Does anybody think Harry Reid will table it or have it voted down when the American Medical Association and the AARP – two Democrat constituency groups, or at least they operate that way inside the Beltway – will be roaming the halls pigeonholing every one of his members? Sure would surprise me.

It seems strange that Boehner is being advised to cave because of “optics” less than a week before Christmas on a policy question where he’s clearly in the right – even his critics cede him that. So what if Chuck Schumer is singing show tunes over his party’s victory in a meaningless news cycle or two? If this country is going to be turned around it’s going to take a lot more strategic thinking than just attempting to beat Democrats one news cycle at a time.

Quin recognizes this, so he’s got my support on this one.

UPDATE: Well, this was nice.



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