Surely, during one of the most severe economic downturns in our nation’s history, Americans of all stripes fastidiously check their paystubs to calculate exactly how much withholding the local, state and federal governments are taking. What’s that? You don’t? You didn’t know that payroll taxes have been reduced by two percent since the beginning of last year?
Well you do now. And that’s the big bonus to the Obama victory on the payroll tax cut, a previously lesser known component of the 2010 deal on the Bush tax cut extension. The very public fight over the legislation has been won by Democrats eyeing traction in 2012, igniting media interest in the policy and subsequent image of the House GOP with political egg on their face.
Just on Thursday, cable and broadcast news was deluged with payroll tax cut extension coverage, including programing that doesn’t often feature positive spins on Obama Administration economic policy.
And while the media positives for Dems have sweetened their victory, the conservative pile on has been just as detrimental for Republicans. The Wall Street Journal editorial board excoriated House GOPers for achieving possibly the worst political result available.
“The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play,” they wrote. “Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.” The whole piece made the rounds yesterday in national publications, and the message was co-opted by cable news.
All it took was a little conflict. Democratic campaign staffers hear the “We’ve got to get our message out there!” refrain from grassroots activists all the time — but it’s not like Dems don’t talk up their tax cutting bonafides on the trail. The message needs a peg in order for the media to pay attention, and the Congressional fight provided it.
Republicans have been fairly successful at brinkmanship this year — Boehner famously admitted to getting “98 percent” of what he wanted in the debt ceiling compromise, the last deadline legislative leaders were up against. And when it comes to the 2012 campaign, the President was given the biggest boost on a message he’d already been pushing. Mr. Obama has struck a populist note over the last few months, starting with the public framing around the American Jobs Act, and the victory on the payroll tax cut extension pushes it forward.
So while a two month extension of a middle class tax (coupled with the all but sure conflict to come over the same policy in February) may not seem earth shattering, it solidfies a theme in 2012 and creates an advantageous narrative for the President, and for the moment, Republicans are left wondering how they lost a home game on taxes.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.