Good news from Congress, sort of

House Republicans finally agreed yesterday on a compromise to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for two more months, ending weeks of anxiety for millions of American families concerned about a tax increase or losing their unemployment insurance.

Since the beginning of the year, a group of extreme conservatives has taken the House hostage and prevented the legislative body from doing what it is meant to do: fair and just policy making. Their tactic is demoralizing, last-minute deal-making.

But while Americans have witnessed this shameful behavior throughout 2011, the gridlock around the payroll tax has been the worst example of Republicans inflexibility as of yet.

The deal the House agreed to yesterday is not much different from what was passed by the Senate last Saturday, or what was presented to them Tuesday. It was only under intense political pressure from Democrats and less extremist Republicans –and polls suggesting an improvement in Obama’s approval- that House leaders decided to surrender and agree on a deal to maintain the benefits for two more months.

This means, by the way, that the New Year will begin with just more of this intractable debate. In fact, in exchange for the temporary extension, the Senate agreed to a formal conference committee to discuss the House partisan one-year extenders bill. But with the House assigning ideologues to this panel we have reason to anticipate more of the same.

The news of this deal is good for all 160,000 New Yorkers whose only income is an unemployment check, and millions who have spent their holidays dreading a tax increase.

The bad news is that these political delays have become the standard instead of exception. The stressed out Americans with real-life bread and butter worries can and should reject legislators resting on their pay and benefits.