Tea Partiers gripe at the tax cut deal

Michele Bachmann and newly arrived House Republicans don't think we can afford additional unemployment benefits

Published December 7, 2010 6:26PM (EST)

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) addresses the group Americans for Prosperity as they hold a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, November 15, 2010.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)        (© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) addresses the group Americans for Prosperity as they hold a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, November 15, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) (© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

While Democrats argue about whether Obama's tax cut deal is better than could be expected, given the circumstances, or less painful "than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," or the first step in the road to gutting Social Security or one of the most "extraordinary hypocrisies in the history of American politics" since Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam, some Republicans are also letting loose with their own murmurs of discontent.

The Hill quotes House Tea Party Caucus chairwoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.):

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Monday -- before the White House deal was unveiled -- that congressional Republicans could balk at voting to extend all the tax cuts for two years if it's tied to a long-term extension of jobless benefits. Bachmann is the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus.

"I don't know that Republicans would necessarily go along with that vote. That would be a very hard vote to take," Bachmann said on conservative commentator Sean Hannity's radio show.

"I think we're back in a conundrum. I think the compromise would be extending the rates for two years and not permanently, but not tying it to massive spending," she said. "We cannot add on something like a year of unemployment benefits."

In Michele Bachmann's world, a tax cut "compromise" means only going so far as to keep all the Bush tax cuts temporary, instead of making them permanent. Now, I used to think Michele Bachmann's world resided in a parallel universe where the normal laws of space, time and human decency did not exist, but after two years of watching her kindle the Tea Party spark into a conflagration, I'm not so sure. Could Tea Party Republicans revolt against the extension of unemployment benefits? Might there be common ground against the tax cut deal from a strange fellowship of House liberals and newly arrived right-wing radicals?

More from The Hill:

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who was sworn in to office last month, told The Hill .... "I firmly believe we need to live within our means."

...As rumors of a deal circulated Monday afternoon, Arkansas GOP Rep.-elect Steve Womack strongly echoed his new colleagues position..."There's a limit to just how much this country can afford," Womack said.

The mayor of Rogers, Ark., went on to say that enough was enough when it comes to jobless benefits. "We've already gone to 99 weeks -- that's a better part of two years -- and at some point in time, I fear that we're going to create an entire culture of joblessness in our nation. ... There has to be a point in time out there where we have to come to the realization that it's no longer affordable," he said.

Here's some information that might be useful for Rep.-elect Womack. According to the latest report on job openings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, released Tuesday morning, there is only approximately one job available for every 4.4 unemployed workers. The good news is that the new numbers are a significant improvement on last month's figures (adding support to hopes that the labor market is finally turning around) but the bad news is that as long as that kind of ratio persists, worrying about "a culture of joblessness" really shouldn't be one of our national priorities.

And as for what the country can afford? The total cost of the tax cut package unveiled yesterday, counting the extension of all the Bush tax cuts, the new payroll tax cut, the unemployment benefit extension and the reinstated (at a historically low level) estate tax comes to around $800 billion-$900 billion over the next two years. The cost of extending unemployment benefits for 13 months is about $60 billion. If your worry is "massive spending" then there are more appropriate places to direct your ire than unemployment benefits.

As I argued earlier today, the U.S. is not heavily taxed by our own historical standards. Raising taxes would not be an unreasonable thing to do, if our main goal was to truly live within our means. Our means are greater than we have been hornswoggled into thinking they are! Of course, the fallback position for Republicans is that raising taxes during a slow economy is a big mistake. And there's some truth to that -- now would not be a great time to let all the Bush tax cuts expire. But in our constrained situation, we should looking very closely at which tax cuts or social welfare policies are most likely to give us the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of encouraging economic growth. And on that score, spending money on unemployment benefits gets a very high rating. Extending unemployment benefits is a sensible move for a government when it is stretched for funds when economic growth is slow and the goal is to increase demand. Tax cuts for the rich ... ah well, that horse is dead, dead, dead.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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