One might think an unprecedented cut in America’s credit rating, the unusually blunt criticism of the Fed chairman and economic turmoil might cause leaders who deliberately precipitated the confrontation over the debt limit to think twice. Nah. Here was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction as expressed to Neil Cavuto of Fox News: “It set the template for the future. In the future, Neil, no president — in the near future, maybe in the distant future — is going to be able to get the debt ceiling increased without a reignition of the same discussion of how do we cut spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.”
This was an example of McConnell’s remarkable candor about his willingness, indeed eagerness, to use ordinary vehicles in extraordinary ways to accomplish his No. 1 objective, the defeat of President Barack Obama in 2012. The Kentucky Republican calibrates his position on this front only if there is a conflict with his other main goal, to bring a Republican majority into the Senate next year. He was equally candid when he said that it was necessary to reach a deal on the debt limit — because failure to do so would be blamed largely on Republicans.
We can see this mindset at work when it comes to the issue of a temporary payroll tax cut. Here is what some prominent Republicans said in 2009 about the issue:
McConnell: “I’d have a payroll tax holiday for a year or two that would put taxes in the hands of everybody who has a job, whether they pay income taxes or not, and, of course, businesses pay the payroll tax, too, so it would be both a business tax cut and individual tax cut immediately.”
Boehner: “It’s clear that trying to get money back into the economy quickly, to preserve jobs and to create jobs has to be the goal, and fast-acting tax relief, we believe is the best way to do that.”
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.): “Earlier this year, I put forward a proposal to eliminate the 3.1 percent payroll tax for one year for all employees in order to put more money in every working American’s pocket during these difficult economic times. This would have been a real stimulus to our economy.”
Every Senate Republican voted for the temporary payroll tax cut. But here is what prominent Republicans are saying about the same policy now:
Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.): “I don’t think sugar-high economics works. We’ve sort of proven this already, a number of times. Temporary tax rebates don’t work to create economic growth. Permanent tax changes do.”
Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.): “I’m not in favor of that. I don’t think that’s a good idea. We need a more overarching approach to our tax policy.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.): “We don’t need short-term gestures. We need long-term fundamental changes in our tax structure and our regulatory structure that people who create jobs can rely on.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.