In a final bid to force their agenda through the end of the 111th Congress, GOP leaders in the Senate blocked an extension to long-term unemployment benefits then refused to consider a House bill permanently extending Bush era tax cuts for those making less than 250 thousand dollars a year. Instead, they negotiated a classic behind-the-scenes Washington deal just on the heels of an election loudly rejecting such behavior by Democrats. Without Democratic opposition, which was bested with pork in the Senate, the deal kicks a potential debate on the tax cuts down the road, adds nearly a trillion dollars to the National Debt, restores long-term unemployment benefits for only thirteen months, undermines the solvency of Social Security with a two percent deduction in payroll taxes, and offers the richest of Americans at least over 100 billion dollars in barely simulative giveaways.
Although it is nice to see Republicans participating in government and our leaders working together, the deal is sickening. The Great Recession long ago ended for wealthy US citizens, yet it continues to devastate Main Street Americans. Republicans may try to justify their opposition to extending long-term unemployment benefits by claiming these minimal stipends encourage job seekers to stay unemployed, but it should be clear a lack of jobs and a high unemployment, as well as underemployment, rate means the job market has no room for those in need of these benefits. In short, these long-term unemployment benefits represent people’s lives and their ability to sustain their wealth into the near future. Consequently, using these benefits as leverage is probably the most irresponsible, appalling attempt to hijack the legislative process by Republicans.
In regards to extending tax breaks, the United States has a serious Deficit and Debt issue that the Bush era tax breaks helped create. While Republicans and Democrats agree on extending most of these tax breaks, which means we are unlikely to see a debate on middle class taxes, thus most of these tax breaks should have simply been extended, our Country does need to have a serious benefits versus costs analysis on this four trillion dollar tax expenditure. Given their criticism of Democrats when they neglect the Deficit no matter how small the price tag and/or how big the benefit to the US, except when it comes to GOP priorities, this is a rather irresponsible and highly hypocritical tactical maneuver on behalf of Republicans.
Predictably, the Obama Administration, despite the President’s clear aversion to the deal, decided the responsible thing to do was negotiate a compromise that would restore unemployment benefits to struggling families and ensure the average citizen would not see a devastating tax increase. If the Obama Deficit Commission report is a preamble to a credible budget reform package, revisions in the tax code could nullify the effects of these tax cuts, though it must not rely so heavily on burdening average Americans versus asking the wealthy for actual sacrifice. If not, the Obama Administration may have made a politically decisive error and a dangerous policy choice.
The campaign trail should end where the steps of the government begin, not inside the Chambers of our Capitol. The most unfortunate aspect of this classic Washington game is the fact dirty politics continue to rule our Country instead of the legislative process. Sadly, extreme polarization has only made the situation worse in a time when America is facing critical challenges. While there are plenty who blame President Obama as our Nation’s number one leader while the Republicans are more to blame in this situation and have been behaving badly of late, it is clear the only way to clean up the US political system is for our leaders to make the decision that politics must be put on the backburner instead of the Nation’s business.