December 25, 2011

In recent days, much has been made about the politically difficult position that the House put itself in over the payroll tax holiday [“The payroll tax standoff,” editorial, Dec. 22; Charles Krauthammer and Eugene Robinson, op-ed, Dec. 23]. There has been much less discussion of the public-policy question that got us there. As a GOP freshman in the House, here is how I see it:

We were pushing for a public policy (a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut) that was universally acknowledged to be more responsible than the Senate alternative (a two-month extension). We took this course not at some expected political cost to our opponents but rather at a known political cost to ourselves.

In short, we chose to put responsible policy before callous political self-interest. I’m unclear on why that was a bad thing.

Not one person that I am aware of — not the president, the members of the major editorial boards, the leaders in the Senate, the congressional rank and file, or the small-business owners for whom this question holds the most importance — has said that, if Congress was going to extend the payroll tax cut, it was wiser to do it for two months instead of a full year.

And yet, for advocating and indeed passing a full-year extension, the House was portrayed as willful and self-destructive.

I’ll grant you that I’m new in Washington, but the coverage of this debate doesn’t make any sense. The sole rebuttal that I saw to the House position, both in the media and Congress, had nothing to do with policy. Rather, it was that Congress had simply run out of time to accomplish this goal.

Where I come from, there is never an excuse for running out of time. If a person runs out of time, it is because he failed to anticipate, plan or execute his assigned task. Period.

So, given that the House did its work on time, why should we be ashamed of keeping the more responsible option on the table as long as possible? Was it not worth trying?

Once again, because it bears repeating: The House passed a one-year extension, and we did it before the eleventh hour. We did it while there was time for compromise with the Senate. I would therefore submit that Senate leaders either failed to plan or failed to execute on time.

And yet the House has become the story yet again.

In poll after poll, Americans say they are sick of all the political maneuvering, the posturing, the chest-thumping, and the pride and ego-based decisions in Washington. They would appreciate it, they say, if Congress would stop making decisions based on political calculus and instead work together to put forward policies that we agree are best for the country. The full-year extension was such a policy.

Is the House above politics? Of course not. But this year, we have made an uncommon effort to get Washington to face the hard questions — even when it was not in our own political interest to do so.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what The Post and millions of Americans across the country have been asking us to do?

Rich Nugent, Washington

The writer, a Republican from Florida, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.