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Shields and Brooks on the Payroll Tax Cut Extension

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 23, 2011

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello, gentlemen.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good to have you here.

So,the standoff over the payroll tax cut, David, finally, yesterday, the Republicans gave in. Were they outmaneuvered? What happened here?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think they didn't understand politics.

I sort of sympathize with them in principle. We have got a number of national pastimes, baseball, motherhood, apple pie and raiding Social Security to pay for our own spending.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And that is what we decided to do, in part for stimulus.

And, in the Senate, they reached sort of a rushed temporary compromise on how to raid Social Security to pay for some stimulative spending. But it would only do it for two months. In the House, the Republicans said there's something squalid going on here. And they began to reject the idea.

Some of them rejected the idea of raiding it entirely, some of them just the two-month extension. They wanted the full year. Why do this two-month thing? And so they rebelled. They rebelled against their own speaker. They rebelled against the Senate.

But the country wanted the tax cuts. And sometimes, in politics, you don't get to choose what you want. There are other people in town. And so they tried to make a stand on principle without actually having a principle. And they basically got rolled. In politics, often you don't have a good option. You have six really squalid options, and you choose the least bad one.

And so this is their education that sometimes the circumstances are such just go with the least bad and get it over with. And maybe that will be the education for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how much damage has this done to the Republicans, or has it?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I will just add on that I think that the Republicans made a reactionary mistake, Judy, that there was -- in the Republican House caucus, there should have been - David's right.

They should have understood once House -- Senate -- Republican and Senate Democrats had overwhelmingly supported, Democrats in the House supported the two months, the president supported it, that they were outvoted. But I think there is in the Republican Caucus in the House, in the Congress, and in the party nationally, there is an anti-Obama reaction.

And if the president is for something -- if the president endorsed the Ten Commandments, they would say, can we cut it to seven? There really is sort of that reaction. And I think that was part of -- it was driven in part by ideology as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it was personal.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the same party that will fight tooth and toenail to preserve $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that George Bush wrote into law that benefit the most wealthy among us, without ever wondering how they should be funded or financed, that never wondered how the Iraq war should be funded or financed, all of a sudden become punctilious and almost green eyeshade accountants and bookkeepers when it comes to funding this.

I agree with David that it's a very, very questionable public policy to take the revenue stream that is dedicated to Social Security...

JUDY WOODRUFF: For Social Security.

MARK SHIELDS: ... and to use it. And we have done it. This is not the first time it's been done. But it should not be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're both saying that's a mistake, the whole premise behind this, whether it's two months or a year.

DAVID BROOKS: I think it's of dubious stimulative effect. And we are going to have to pay it. It's not like it's free money. We will have to pay it.

The ideological or the intellectual defense of what the Republicans were objecting to is that a permanent tax cut has long-term really economic effects. A temporary tax cut, nobody really changes their behavior. You don't hire people because of a two-month benefit. And so that's the intellectual thing. I agree there's also a large personal element involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if it such a bad idea to take this money out of the Social Security fund, if you -- I don't know. Do you feel it stimulates the economy?

MARK SHIELDS: I do think it's the only federal stimulus that Republicans will vote for is this tax cut. So I can understand putting money into people's pockets in hopes that we will stimulate, we will spend.

I can understand certainly the economic theory behind it. And I think it's more than plausible.

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