CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most Republicans in Congress signed Grover Norquist's pledge vowing never to vote for a tax increase -- yet, bizarrely, House Republicans took a step Tuesday that may inflict a $1,000 tax increase on 160 million Americans.
The action showed that GOP leaders care only about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, not for middle-class U.S. families.
Here's the situation:
Last year, Democrats in Congress passed a one-year reduction in the withholding tax taken from paychecks for Social Security, giving every working American nearly $1,000 extra take-home pay during 2011.
This year, President Obama and Democrats attempted to extend the reduction through 2012 and increase it to $1,500. To offset this revenue loss, they proposed a tiny tax increase on incomes above $1 million. Republicans exploded and killed the plan. West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin was the only Senate Democrat who sided with the GOP in all votes.
Finally, the Senate achieved a temporary compromise, extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million for just two months. The measure also extended unemployment benefits and revised Medicare a bit. Manchin opposed that as well.
But in a party-line vote Tuesday, House Republicans scuttled the Senate compromise. Now it seems unlikely that any further action can occur before the $1,000 break expires on New Year's Eve.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi protested that GOP House leaders are out of step with the vast majority of Americans, even most Republicans. She declared:
"It is just the extreme tea party element of the Republicans in the House of Representatives who are standing in the way of a tax cut for 160 million Americans, unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, and Medicare opportunities for 48 million seniors."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, claimed that his party merely is trying to forge a different approach on payroll withholding -- but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid countered:
"With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, it would be unconscionable for Speaker Boehner to block a bipartisan agreement that would protect middle-class families from the $1,000 tax increase looming on Jan. 1."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., pointed out that 900,000 West Virginia workers will be affected. "I am deeply disappointed that the House has turned its back on these families," he said.
Next year's presidential election may shape up chiefly as a struggle between the party that serves the rich and the party that serves everyone else. Tuesday's House showdown focused a spotlight on that difference.