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Falling on one’s principled sword

By Walt Braun

We get the opposition among House Republicans to a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, which was passed by the Senate a few days ago.

Purely on grounds of economic policy, a two-month extension makes no sense. It provides none of the certainty — which a long-term extension would provide — that private business requires in order to lock in expansion plans that would aid the economy. That   is what everybody says they want to do. Nor does it give any kind of closure to the debate. The House’s own recent action in approving a one-year extension is only marginally better in that regard, by the way.

Granting all that, it does not, however, follow that House Republicans, among them Second District Rep. Lynn Jenkins,  were smart to kill the Senate’s two-month extension.

The obvious problem is the visceral response most taxpayers are likely to have at the prospect of losing the 2-percentage point tax cut. There are 160 million of those taxpayers, and they will not be happy. House Republicans can argue all they want that the practical impact of the Senate’s proposal was more political than economic. It does not matter. Voters will take out their unhappiness on the very House Republicans who viewed themselves as standing on principle in their demand for a longer and more certain extension.

This will swing power next election to those most in opposition to the goals the House Republicans seek.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem smart.

What the House should have done is approve the two-month extension — kick the can down the road, Jenkins accurately called it — and then continue to pursue the fight for something more durable. This may be a bow to Senate President Harry Reid, but it also enables the House Republicans to continue their effort to reframe the discussion as one of establishing a sensible and enduring tax policy that actually encourages job creation. Reframing of the discussion is the political battle that House Republicans actually need to win.

It would be a lot easier for the House GOP members to intellectualize that argument to a body politic that isn’t being hit up for an additional two percent for the indefinite and apparently infinite time period it takes lawmakers to agree on a substantive tax policy.

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