Most military experts and athletic coaches will admit that miscalculations and underestimating the opposition is a certain guarantee of losing a contest. There are myriad reasons for making wrong assumptions during the heat of battle whether it is a vicious military conflict or a hard-fought football game. In politics, there are only a few reasons a political party makes bad policy decisions, but at the top of the list has to be arrogance and, on some level, underestimating the opposition’s resolve to hold the line when it looks like the public is solidly in favor of their agenda. The Republicans in the House and Senate have miscalculated and underestimated President Obama and Democratic representative’s resolve at demanding Republicans pass the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extension proposed by President Obama as part of his jobs plan from a couple of months ago.
Republicans, led by ineffectual leader John Boehner, have put themselves in an unenviable position of being responsible for raising taxes on 160 million hard working Americans on January 1st unless they get inspired to pass the Senate’s two month payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extension. Despite the rhetoric and deflection of blame on President Obama and Senate Democrats, Republicans have finally made a hostage demand that the president is not willing to pay. It has taken three years, but Americans now have a clear picture of who Republicans really serve and regardless of the outcome of the payroll tax cut fiasco, the GOP has damaged itself badly and they may not recover anytime soon.
When a House Republican referred to what they’re doing with the payroll tax extension as being “high-stakes poker,” President Obama said, “He’s right about the stakes, but this is not poker, this is not a game—this shouldn’t be politics as usual.” If Republicans believe playing political brinkmanship with 160 million American’s tax increase was a game, they fail to understand the fragile state working Americans find themselves in, or how serious the President is in demanding Republicans do their jobs. However, it is becoming clear that Republican’s job may have been to never pass the payroll tax cut extension in the first place. The fact that Boehner did not allow an up or down vote on the Senate’s two month extension makes clear that he knew there was a possibility of it passing the House, and to satisfy the tea party caucus, set aside the Senate’s bill and scheduled a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate’s version of the bill. Now that the Senate has gone home until January and all but 8 “negotiators” appointed by Boehner to work out a deal with the absent Senate are still in Washington, it appears there will be a tax increase on 160 million Americans.
There has been criticism against Boehner and Republicans from Senate Republicans and Karl Rove who said that House Republicans overreached in reneging on the payroll tax cut deal. But Rove has a plan to shift blame onto the President and Democrats even though they have pushed the full year extension for months. Rove suggested that Boehner and House Republicans “wait until President Obama gets on an airplane and heads to Hawaii and then hold a session of the House, vote the two month extension, and use it as an opportunity to beat up on the now long-absent Democrats and Harry Reid and the absent President and say, look, this is going to cause … not be good for the companies that have to write the paychecks because we have heard from the people who process payroll checks that this is gonna be a problem, and it is not good for the American people because we’re only giving them a two months not a year’s worth of confidence.”
Yes, that is the vile Karl Rove Americans came to hate during the Bush administration, but his tactical suggestion is too late and a gross miscalculation of the intelligence of the American people who have nervously waited to hear if their taxes are going up in less than two weeks. Rove’s suggestion is also a slimy maneuver that risks backfiring because with the public’s approval of Congress at only 11%, they will be hard pressed to believe anything Republicans say. A recent poll reported that Americans already think Republicans are not ethical or working for anyone but the ultra-wealthy so they will hardly believe the President is shirking his duties; especially when he has urged Congress to pass his jobs plan for over two months without cessation.
There are Republicans who are still against the payroll tax cut because they claim, like 2010’s stimulus, that it did not help the economy or stimulate job growth. In the first two votes in the Senate, there were Republicans who voted against the tax cut and opposed it regardless of how it was paid for. Some claimed it short-changed the Social Security Trust Fund, but according to the law, there is a requirement that the general fund reimburse Social Security for the amount of the cut that will result in absolutely no reduction in funding, and the Republican Senators know it. Another group opposed the cuts because they preferred comprehensive tax reform that simplifies the tax code with permanency and more breaks for the so-called “job creators.” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said, “I voted against last night’s extension of the so-called payroll tax holiday. Our economy and American taxpayers need more permanency to the tax code, not less. This is another example of why comprehensive tax reform that simplifies and lowers the tax burden on job creators is so desperately needed.”
The drama around the tax cut for 160 million Americans is more about reducing taxes for the wealthy and corporations (job creators) than reducing taxes for 160 million working Americans for one year. That is why the House tea party freshmen commanded Boehner to shelve the vote, and not anything to do with the length of the cuts. It is important to remember that most Republicans signed Grover Norquist’s no-tax increase pledge even though Norquist says allowing the payroll tax cut to expire is not an increase. Norquist and his Republican slaves are only interested in reducing taxes for the wealthy and paying for them with middle-class and low-income Americans’ tax increases.
It is unclear how Republicans will get out of this particular debacle, and one cannot take enough pleasure in the demise of the GOP. However, the notion of a tax increase on 160 million Americans is unacceptable for working Americans and the slowly-recovering economy. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that if there was not an election in the balance, Republicans would allow the middle class tax cuts to expire to give the wealthy more tax cuts. The president and Democrats have worked for 99% of the people for the past three years and Republicans have punished all but the wealthy mercilessly. This time though, the Republicans have miscalculated and underestimated President Obama and Democrats resolve to do the right thing for working Americans by taking their tax cut down to the wire in hopes of getting their hostage demands met. Like bad generals, coaches, and criminals, Republicans will lose this battle as Americans watch in horror as the GOP have misplayed a bad hand for what may be the last time. The American people will not forget which party played high-stakes poker with their livelihood and they will exact revenge next November. This time, Republicans called the President’s bluff at the wrong time and when he was holding the American people’s welfare as the winning hand. It was a losing proposition from the outset.