Deal on payroll tax has slim chance
Gridlocked lawmakers express modest hopes
WASHINGTON – After the failure of the congressional deficit-reduction committee last week, members of Congress from both parties signaled limited willingness to compromise on more immediate economic issues headed their way before the year ends.
The Obama administration has asked Congress to extend payroll tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, and also to renew unemployment benefits. The tax-cut extension could cost the Treasury an estimated $112 billion, but if it lapses, taxes on American workers will go up Jan. 1 at a cost of about $1,000 for a typical family.
Democrats plan to propose paying for the extension with a surtax on millionaires, which Republicans oppose.
“By taxing people who provide jobs, you put off the day we have economic recovery and job creation in this country,” said Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, who was one of six Republican members on the deficit panel. “It would hit those people, the small businesses who we all acknowledge are the ones who create the jobs.”
But Kyl, on “Fox News Sunday,” stopped short of saying that there would be no deal on the payroll tax cut extension.
The assertion that the surtax would hurt small businesses is overstated, according to the nonpartisan fact-checking site PolitiFact, which cited several reports showing that only a tiny percentage of such business owners make more than $1 million a year.
Economists warn that not extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits could cut the economy’s weak growth almost in half next year.
The deficit committee’s failure triggered automatic budget cuts – split between military and nonmilitary spending – to go into effect by 2013 unless Congress comes up with another plan to reduce deficits.
Some lawmakers indicated Sunday that they might be open to reviving previous proposals from the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.
The Simpson-Bowles commission proposed cuts in spending, including on entitlement programs that Democrats traditionally have protected, but also called for increasing taxes and closing loopholes. Republicans resisted the revenue recommendations.
But both parties are hesitant to let the payroll tax cuts expire for fear of how it would affect consumer spending and confidence. At least two senators said Sunday that lawmakers might seize the moment to come up with a larger plan to preserve the tax cuts and reduce deficits.
“I believe this is a contrarian view, but we have a good chance of actually getting the big package, big deficit reduction in 2012,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The pressure on both parties to come together in the middle … is going to be stronger and stronger. Second, the Republican primaries will end; right now the Republican primary pushes the candidates and then their Senate and congressional supporters to the right.
“But once you get a nominee, they have to move to the middle.”