The Post reports: “Congressional negotiators gave final approval early Thursday to an economic plan worth more than $150 billion that would extend a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.” The deal contains a number of items, but nothing to pay for the raft of new spending and tax outlays:
The bill — which some Obama aides say is likely to be the last significant legislation passed before the November elections — includes a 10-month extension of a payroll tax holiday that lets the average worker keep an extra $1,000 a year. The deal also would extend unemployment benefits through the end of 2012. But it reduces the tenure on unemployment by the end of the year to 63 weeks in states moderately impacted by the recession and 73 weeks for those with the highest jobless rates.
The plan is about one-third the size of the original jobs legislation Obama proposed in September. It includes a temporary fix for Medicare’s payment plan, intended to prevent a 27 percent drop in fees paid to doctors who treat elderly
To put it bluntly, the GOP caved on debt control. (“Republican leaders, who had been divided on the payroll tax package in December, decided over the weekend that the best decision on the contentious issue was to support a plan that would not require offsetting cuts for the tax holiday, which is worth about $100 billion. That decision, a reversal of their previous position, made the final negotiations much easier.”)
Not surprisingly, there was not much glee about the deal. A top Republican House aide, whom I asked about GOP support for the bill, told me he thought the bill would get bipartisan support but didn’t know how many Republicans would support it. It’s not even clear whether the bill will get as many votes as the controversial debt ceiling bill this past summer.
Another Republican adviser sounded resigned. Not authorized to speak on the record, he said, “We have bigger battles ahead.” He said that it wasn’t in the Republicans’ interest to allow President Obama “to run as a tax cutter, [and] cast GOP as middle class tax hikers.” A Capitol Hill Republican aide familiar with the thinking of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), head of the Republican Study Commission and an opponent of many of the deals crafted by GOP leadership said that Jordan would “much prefer to separate the issues. If the payroll tax extension came up for a vote by itself, he would support that. He’s less likely to support the combined package but is still weighing the decision.”
There may, in fact, be some Republican opposition, especially from the presidential candidate. For one thing, the deal does undermine the notion that we should be shoring up Social Security, not dismantling the funding mechanism. (Rick Santorum made this point convincingly in a debate in January.)
Some Senate Republicans are mulling whether to support the bill. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl’s office said he was “eager to see the details.” Prominent Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have in the past supported extending the payroll tax cut on the grounds that we should not be raising taxes. However, other Republicans in the Senate who have consistently urged that the Congress not add to the debt (e.g., Pat Toomey [Pa.] and Jim DeMint [S.C.]) may be difficult to convince.
This is certainly the least-rotten option for Republicans. After folding at the end of last year, Republicans plainly don’t have the votes or the nerve to hold up a deal. On one hand, it does damage to the president’s argument that the Republicans are obstructionists. That said, fiscal hawks are not going to be pleased. Once again, the president and Congress simply kicked the can down the road.