December 20, 2011 5:41 pm ET - by Kate Conway
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) appeared on Fox News this afternoon to complain about what he called the "stupid debate" over the payroll tax cut extension. While most members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike-have come around to the idea that a one-year extension of the payroll tax holiday is an economic necessity, Johnson isn't one to succumb to peer pressure — or expert analysis. Johnson, who, needless to say, wasn't one of the 39 Republican senators to vote in favor of the Senate's overwhelmingly bipartisan two-month compromise bill, doesn't want the tax cut to be extended at all.
Confronted by host Neil Cavuto over the conflicting positions the GOP has taken regarding extending the Bush tax cuts and extending the payroll tax cut, Johnson ends up with a self-contradictory hodge-podge of talking points:
JOHNSON: Now, I don't want to increase taxes to anybody, but we could certainly target some kind of tax relief to middle, to lower-income workers and not further bankrupt Social Security.
CAVUTO: Where was this resolve, though, there are many other Republicans who share this, when it came to extending the Bush tax cuts?
JOHNSON: Well, again, remember, the payroll tax was supposed to be a temporary reduction for one year. And that's the problem with any kind of temporary tax, is every time you go to increase it you're going to cause economic harm. So that's one of the reasons you've got to be very careful when you start lowering taxes. [...] The Bush tax cuts average about $150 billion per year, and the argument moving forward is, should you be increasing taxes, certainly with an incredibly weak economy, and I don't think we should. So I don't want to increase taxes. The number-one component of a solution, Neil, is economic growth. You don't want to do anything to harm that. But at the same time, you have to take a look at the fiscal condition of our overall government as well as the entitlement programs like Social Security.
The most dishonest part of Johnson's argument is his suggestion that the Bush tax cuts weren't temporary. While Republicans may have always intended for the Bush tax cuts to endure, banking on the political difficulty of raising taxes, they wrote the legislation such that the tax cuts were scheduled to expire after a decade. It's a longer span of time, but it's the same process applied to the payroll tax holiday, which expires at the end of the year.
Despite Cavuto's skepticism, Johnson seems to have no problem talking out of both sides of his mouth: Don't increase taxes in "an incredibly weak economy," he argues, but it's okay to let the payroll tax expire. The payroll tax cut can expire because it was supposed to be "temporary," he suggests, but that logic need not be applied to his party's tax breaks for the rich.
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