The extension of the Social Security payroll tax holiday seems like a sure thing, since the leadership of the House of Representatives decided to change its position. They are no longer demanding equivalent spending cuts in order to avoid increasing the deficit.
This is a shrewd decision because it avoids repeating a scenario that favored Democrats, showing Republicans were willing to unconditionally lower taxes for the wealthiest while at the same time imposing demands when the beneficiaries were the working class.
Moreover, in this case the shift in position is a political maneuver. By supporting the tax benefit extension, they are breaking up a package of measures that until today were together: extending the payroll tax cuts, renewing unemployment benefits and forestalling a cut in fees to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Therefore, the last two items will be left up to legislative negotiators. When it comes to unemployment in particular, the GOP would like to make changes, including reducing the benefit to 59 weeks instead of the 79 weeks the White House wants and the 93 weeks Democratic senators are proposing.
The impression that Democrats and Republicans have finally set aside their differences for the good of Americans is mistaken. That hasn’t happened during this presidential term and is even less likely to happen in a re-election year.
All we can expect is that from today to the end of the month, there isn’t a repeat of the tug of war surrounded by intransigence that has left Americans like hostages at the edge of the abyss.
The unemployed and Medicare beneficiaries need to have the same assurances as workers, who will see an extension of their Social Security payroll tax cut.