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How the Tea Party Revolt on Payroll Taxes Hurts Republicans

Posted by: Joshua Green on December 22, 2011

With the Iowa caucuses just 10 days away, tradition dictates that the nation’s political attention should be riveted upon the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But while that contest remains wide open, the focus of attention swung to Washington this week, where a revolt by Tea Party freshmen has jeopardized a bipartisan agreement to extend a payroll tax cut that would save the average family about $1,000 over the course of a year.

This isn’t the first time that the Tea Party caucus has defied, and thereby humiliated, House Speaker John Boehner, who let his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, negotiate a two-month extension that passed 89-10 last week and appeared so certain to become law that the Senate left town.

But this latest episode is more damaging than earlier revolts over continued funding for the government and raising the debt ceiling because it threatens to make Republicans culpable for raising taxes — which they supposedly consider a cardinal sin — and in defiance of a bipartisan agreement that would avoid this. Their intransigence has pitted Republicans against one another. On Monday, Senator Scott Brown, who voted for the cut, said, “The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong.” In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that not only is it taking a toll on congressional Republicans, and could harm the party’s presidential hopefuls, but it’s also helping President Obama.

Tea Party conservatives are insisting on a full-year extension paid for by cutting programs that Democrats hold dear. In the past, refusing to compromise has proved a fruitful negotiating strategy: The White House often meekly conceded much of what was being demanded. But this time, the revolt has come after a bipartisan vote, and on an issue — tax cuts — that’s supposed to unify Republicans. Instead, they’re in disarray and Democrats are the ones unified in support of the cuts — a reversal of the customary positions. It only adds to the appearance of bad faith that Republicans’ sudden reluctance involves a tax cut that broadly benefits the middle class rather than the rich.

Voters may be tiring of such behavior. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows a five-point jump in Obama’s approval rating to 49 percent, a rise also reflected in another national poll. “Obama’s approval rating appears to be fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans,” said Keating Holland, who directed the CNN poll. “The data suggest that the debate over the payroll tax is helping Obama’s efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class.”

That’s no certainty, since the basis of approval ratings is notoriously difficult to pinpoint. But a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that, by a measure of 46-41 percent, more voters trust Obama than Republicans on taxes — a reversal of recent history — and also trust him more (50-35 percent) to protect the middle class.

For Republicans in Congress, this poses an obvious problem, since the public’s distrust will only rise should their obstinacy drive up everybody’s taxes. But it also poses a problem for the party’s presidential candidates. Since none has emerged as a clear front-runner, they are all scrambling to win over the conservative base. This has allowed congressional Republicans, themselves at the mercy of the Tea Party, to set the conservative agenda, which has had the effect of pulling the presidential field even further to the right.

This is one reason why Mitt Romney belatedly championed the House budget (even after House Republicans made clear they won’t act on it) and attacked Newt Gingrich for calling it “right-wing social engineering.” And it’s why Gingrich has declared his support for the payroll tax revolt, even though it is unpopular with the public and even with some elements of his own party.

The danger for Romney, Gingrich, and the other contenders is that they’ll come to be seen as captive to the Tea Party, whose popularity has plummeted. That’s why every Democratic attack these days gleefully emphasizes the connection, whether or not it’s justified. And since, when it comes to the payroll tax, it is entirely justified, those attacks will be all the more effective.

Joshua Green writes a weekly column for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

Reader Comments


December 22, 2011 12:22 PM

If the Government would stop spending so much taxes would be of no concern.

We don't need a tax increase, we need a spending cut.

I do not trust Obama on anything related to the economy and the free market.

Pastor McCoy

December 22, 2011 1:26 PM

You have it backwards.

The President asked for a year long extension, and the House Republicans gave him what he asked for.

The Senators are the ones who killed the deal.


December 22, 2011 2:02 PM

Why do the media persist in calling it a "Tax" when what it really is, is a reduction in the amount of contribution to the Social Security fund?

Stephen Graff

December 22, 2011 2:05 PM

If it wasn't sad that the possibility for a middle class tax increase is growing by the day, most democrats would be publicly jumping for joy at this holiday political gift that the republicans are giving--and wrapping it up to boot. This makes the 1993 overreach (courtesy of then Speaker Gingrich) that led to disastrous elections for republicans look like a minor event by comparison.


December 22, 2011 2:17 PM

Now it appears that the Republicans are waging their own class war.....against the middle class!


December 22, 2011 2:38 PM

can't wait to vote in November.
then i can vote out a bunch of corporate boot-licking republicons.

Jim L

December 22, 2011 2:49 PM

The Tea Party had their 15 minutes of fame. Its time for moderate Republicans to stand up and be heard across the country and dispatch these wannabe's to an island somewhere in the Pacific where they can all slurp their narrow-minded tea.


December 22, 2011 4:29 PM

Culpability lies with the Senate - both parties. No one in their right mind would pass a bill valid for only two months. By mid-summer we should have this little tiffs and tirades on a weekly basis. The president, I'm loathe to say, and the House are right. Do it for a year and get it over with.

The only politicians with half a brain in this matter are the Tea Party members.

Dougie Fresh

December 22, 2011 4:37 PM

We shouldn't have done this to begin with. We are in this financial mess because we continue to feed our current wants by financing our future. Social Security is already underfunded, and what do we do - underfund it even worse. NO, NO, NO, NO. I want something there when I retire. Tea Party, Democrat, Liberal, Republican. You'll call me bad names now, but someday you'd thank me.


December 22, 2011 4:44 PM

In truly free markets government operations would be all turned over to private business. Private fire fighting businesses can compete for every citizen's monthly payment as fire fighting insurance. Private police protection will too.

These two in themselves should save plenty on taxes.

Then, in true Tea Party form, we'd disband our military for private militias paid for in monthly installments. These militias will compete in free markets for our business to protect us from our advisories foreign and domestic.

True free markets at work.

left coast

December 22, 2011 7:25 PM

The Tea Party's strategy is to sink the ship in order to drown the captain.

Commie Stooge

December 22, 2011 9:11 PM

Gee, I sure didn't see the Tea Party demanding cuts to pay for the Bush Tax Cuts - which blew a hole in the budget we'll NEVER recover from!


December 23, 2011 12:01 AM

The Tea Party extremists including Bachman need to go. Remember this bad behavior when election time comes. They do not try to work for the common good. They work for Grover Norquist not you.


December 23, 2011 12:03 AM

The Tea Party extremists including Bachman need to go. Remember this bad behavior when election time comes. They do not try to work for the common good. They work for Grover Norquist not you.


December 23, 2011 10:46 AM

Lets get the facts straight. The house and the senate had 3 months to brocker a deal on tax cuts. Republicans sent the Senate a bill that was DOA which included the Trans Canada Pipline..with no time left, the Senate passed the 2 month extension....the People a finally fed up with the Tea Party

Firozali A.Mulla DBA

December 28, 2011 5:51 AM

Compare these wise sayings and see how we re-act with thesee now? Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury-to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.
Albert Einstein
1. Conscience.
2. Reason, intellect.
3. Courage.
From Old English inwit, from in + wit (mind, thought). Earliest documented use: 1230.
The word is usually seen as part of the phrase agenbite of inwit. Agenbite (remorse) is literally, again-bite, a variant of ayenbite, from ayen (again) + bite. James Joyce reanimated this ancient term back into the language when he used it in Ulysses.
"The Journals of Sylvia Plath may be intensely introspective, full of the agenbite of inwit, but they are just as intensely external, describing -- with an attentiveness one can't imagine in any male diarist -- food, furniture, hair, flowers, colours, and clothes."
Blake Morrison; Love at First Bite; Independent On Sunday (London, UK); Apr 2, 2000.
A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution. -Jean-Paul Sartre, writer and philosopher (1905-1980) It is my house, my dog, my car, my wife, my , my my, while poor die, the world get warmer but I am not sighing the Kyoto Protocol as I have not emitted gas in the air. I am innocent until proved guilty. QUOTATION OF THE DAY -
"Oklahoma was like his mother. Now he's back in his mother's arms."
NORA GUTHRIE, the daughter of folk singer Woody Guthrie, on plans to build an exhibition and study centre in Tulsa, Okla., to honour her father's legacy. I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

Kurt Mannion

January 10, 2012 5:45 AM

Totally awesome.

buble shooter

January 19, 2012 6:49 AM

Hello, how are you? I hope you do well. I needed to say that I like How the Tea Party Revolt on Payroll Taxes Hurts Republicans - BusinessWeek.


February 1, 2012 12:06 AM

Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, lack of oversight over wall st, and reckless spending on unnecessary war and no-bid contracts caused our current financial woes. Today Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to continue the same disastrous policies.

Firozali A.Mulla DBA

February 2, 2012 6:24 AM

I do not see any sense in stating that the rich people should be blamed for everything. Any prosperous nation need people who take risk. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates should be appreciated by governments because this is the type of people who bring innovation to a country. While Europe is engaged in hunting the rich, countries like Hong Kong and Singapore welcomes them. The EU should make big change in the political structure and engaged young people to make more start-up and take risk. Entrepreneurship is the key! One can see nowadays the big disparities between EU and USA especially in the business environment. Just this week, many companies in USA are beating earnings expectations while in Europe…I'm always amazed when I see the charts of the top 1% that entertainers and athletes are not higher on the list. However, when you examine the charts that are always referenced, they are designed to not include them. 1. Number of people in each category and 2. Percent of total income (fewer capital gains) .This is important, because capital gains can include royalties. This makes up much of the income that these record and movie artists make. Also, it doesn't specify if these numbers include income earned in other countries, which can make up a large amount for big names. For the percentage for that occupation that makes up the total 1%, there will be less entertainers and athletes. However, they make an insane proportion of those dollars. If you were to include capital gains and graph the proportion of entertainers in the 1% and how much of the income they account for, I think there would be a very different picture. I think these charts are created to demonise business. But then without this we would never progress. We need poor and rich but rich to hand out more tax etc. I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA
noun: A miser.
After Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean-spirited, miserly protagonist in Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol. Earliest documented use: 1940.
"John Hymers was not entirely a Scrooge. There were times when he secretly helped poor people and he built a village library."
Sisters Campaigned for a Mixed School at Hymers; Hull Daily Mail (UK); Jan 23, 2012.
Mistakes are part of the dues that one pays for a full life. -Sophia Loren, actress (b. 1934)


February 9, 2012 3:24 PM

Any rangers fans? Bush paid for Arlington stadium treating compensation as capital gains-he also forced a rancher and farmer off his land. Heck with both dems and reps. Vote lib.


February 9, 2012 3:57 PM

Obama just a pandering corporate shill. Want to know what we're really paying? Core inflation index never includes grocery/energy/excise taxes poor pay. Meanwhile the rest of us see electricity, health, auto insurance and edu all skyrocket and even gas tax is still 26 percent of GDP.

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Led by Bloomberg Businessweek's Washington correspondent, "Joshua Green on Politics" is a blog devoted to national politics and public policy issues, from Congress to the 2012 Presidential campaign trail. A special focus will be the intersection of business and politics. Follow the author on Twitter (@JoshuaGreen). To book for television or radio appearances, call Patti Straus, 212-617-3279, or e-mail

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