The committee working on the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut is not making much headway. A number of issues set the GOP's intent to cut assistance for those at the bottom of the income distribution as much as possible against the Dems' desire to fund the needed additional aid by a reasonable increase to the taxes of those who have enjoyed the most benefit from the last decade of tax cuts--those with a million or more in income. See Needham et al, Payroll tax, jobless benefits land on weekend agenda, The Hill (Feb. 9, 2012).
Number of weeks: The Republicans want to limit assistance to 59 weeks, incredibly stingy when many Americans are still jobless from the Great Recession. The Dems offered a cut to 93 weeks, but the GOP wants to cut the unemployed much more than that so they said no deal.
Pay-fors: The Democrats offered a surcharge on millionaires. The GOP wants federal workers to face more job cuts and a third year of pay freezes. Not hard to see which of those two proposals makes the most sense and is the most humance, but the GOP hasn't been into being humane for quite a while now.
Whose to blame: Dave Camp knows that the GOP's obstructionism was noticed last fall, so he wants to be sure the Dems get the blame for this round. He's already badmouthing the Democrats, claiming that they are "dragging their feet". One wonders how one side can drag feet when the other side is not willing to negotiate on anything that doesn't give them 95% of what they want. The GOP, meanwhile, treats the Dems' bargaining positions as a "joke"--as though nobody on the right can imagine ever deciding to tax millionaires more than their currently very low rates. See David Dayen, Payroll tax cut committee on brink of failure, FireDogLake (Feb. 7, 2012).
Payroll tax cut extension: Boehner has made noises to suggest he doesn't want the House Republicans to cut their noses to spite their faces like they did the last time the payroll tax cut came up. But at least some in the GOP don't want to extend the payroll tax cut, because they think that will make it look like Obama is an effective President. Id. Maybe those Congresspeople should start thinking more about the wellbeing of the Americans who are their constituents and less about whether their party will win the presidency in this year's election. Simon Johnson's Baseline Scenario essay on the issue of mean-spiritedness is worth reading (hat tip: Mark Thoma's Economist's Blog):
In negotiations currently under way, House Republicans propose to cut back dramatically on these [unemployment] benefits, asserting that this will push people back to work and speed the recovery. Does this make sense, or is it bad economics, as well as being mean-spirited? ...
Why would anyone now seek to punish these people when they seek work but cannot get it? ... Extended unemployment benefit provides on average about $300 a week – ...only about 70 percent of the poverty level for a family of four. If you strip even this money from people who remain out of work through no fault of their own, you will push more individuals and families onto the streets and into shelters. The cost of providing those fall-back services is very high – and much higher than providing unemployment benefits.
How does it help any economic recovery when the people who lose jobs cannot even afford to buy basic goods and services – enough to keep their family afloat? ...