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The payroll tax battle gets worse

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Susan Walsh/AP

(Read caption) The U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Partisan to the core, Congress careened toward a holiday-season standoff on legislation to prevent a Social Security payroll tax increase for 160 million workers on Jan. 1.

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I don’t know if anyone can figure out what’s going on with the payroll tax/HI negotiations, but here’s what I can glean from the raucous noise that is our Congress at work:

the House R’s won’t vote on the bipartisan Senate bill, for reasons I don’t quite get.  It looks like Rep Boehner doesn’t have the votes to defeat the Senate bill, so I guess he’d look bad, but he already looks terrible.  All America can see right now is an unbelievably feckless Congress underperforming expectations that are already abysmally low.  So, passing the Senate bill, even if it’s just a two month extension, saying you’ll get fight again another day, getting your sorry butts out of here, seems like the smart move.

there’s a rising likelihood that the UI extensions and payroll tax cut expire.  I’m hearing some whispering to the tune of “hey, it won’t be so bad if we rush back in Jan and pass them…we can make them retroactive.”  Um…no.  It will be awfully bad for almost 2 million UI recipients who could be dropped from the UI rolls.  And most of them have been jobless for at least half a year, so it’s unlikely they’ve got much to fall back on.  Also, it’s no picnic for businesses to have to adjust payrolls to plug back in the 2% cut that expires at the end of this year.

–this isn’t about providing more help to workers and the unemployed.  The House R’s are tying to frame this meltdown like it’s all about making sure those struggling with the still weak economy need a year extension, not two months.  I agree that a two month extension is extremely goofy.  But we’re stuck there because these same House Rs injected a bottle of poison pills into their bill, including up to 40 fewer weeks of UI, drug testing and educational requirements for UI recips, delaying environmental standards, whacking federal workers, and cutting implementation funds for the Affordable Care Act.

democracy takes a holiday: Here are two rules from the House Republicans on how they plan to proceed on this issue:

Section 1 of the rule:

5. Waives all points of order against consideration of the resolution and provides that it shall be considered as read.

6. Waives all points of order against provisions in the resolution.

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This is informally called “blanket martial law” because it basically means all the normal rules governing debate on legislation are suspended and the House can do what it wants when it wants.  D’s have used this too, btw, but this time it’s in place through the middle of next month.  I suspect that’s the longest period over which this blatantly undemocratic measure has been in place.

Dysfunction, thy name is the 112 Congress.


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