Thursday, December 1, 2011

Should Congress extend the payroll tax break?

Maybe not. It might feel good now, but have long-term consequences. Or, at least, that's what I say in this week's Scripps column:
Whether he means to or not, President Obama is threatening the future of Social Security and the cause of good governance with his campaign to extend the payroll tax cut.

Sure, the tax break is meant to be temporary. But lots of tax breaks have a sunset clause. Yet somehow we're still stuck (for example) with the tax cuts that were passed under George W. Bush, which helped create our current deficit mess. Why? Because Obama didn't have the political will to let those tax cuts expire and let America's wealthiest citizens start contributing to deficit reduction.

Now the president is traveling around the country, saying the end of the payroll tax break is an attack on the middle class, one that will further undermine an ailing economy, and proves that Republicans only care about keeping taxes low for the rich.

On that last part, he's right: GOP tax-cutting zeal has been mysteriously absent on this issue.

But if the end of the temporary tax break amounts to an unconscionable tax hike on the middle class, it will probably be an unconscionable tax hike on the middle class next year and the year after that, and so forth, for as many times as is needed to renew the "temporary" exemption. If the economy suddenly, finally starts to grow, there will surely be politicians who suggest that letting the break expire at that point will bring the pain back.

Americans will want to keep their tax break. (It amounts to about $1,000 a year for many families.) But they'll also eventually want their Social Security check. It may not be possible to keep both. In the end, we really do have to pay for the government we get, or we'll stop getting that government. We'll end up paying, one way or another.
Ben manages to be down on both the payroll tax cut extension and Social Security. You'll have to click the link to read his take.

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