Talk About Poisoning the Well: The Return of the Payroll Tax Cut Debate

Mitch McConnell and Eric Kantor remain true to the GOP principle of pushing major tax increases. Wait, what? With the payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the month, the average working American will start paying on average $950/year in higher taxes. The GOP, who tried to force this increase over the Christmas holiday legislative break before they realized that everyone was going to blame them and they tried to save face by forcing the administration to make a 60 day decision on the Keystone pipeline, an obscure political issue that was all but guaranteed to not become a real story — bad GOP strategists, bad!

Now Mitch McConnell is upset that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to “poison the well” in this debate. “Poisoning the well” is a rhetorical device where a speaker preemptively attacks an opponent (rightly or wrongly) to damage credibility before the debate begins. McConnell blames Reid for doing this both figuratively and literally after Reid explained that the GOP was resisting attempts to pay for the payroll tax extension for most Americans by slightly increasing taxes on the super wealthy and instead requesting laws that would allow more Mercury and Arsenic be dumped into the nation’s water supply. That’s pretty much the best example of poisoning the well ever.

In this case, though, Reid’s remarks were entirely accurate. Rather than increase taxes on the wealthy, the GOP has countered that we can pay for this tax cut by removing EPA pollution regulations. Oh and they want to push this Keystone thing in there again too — which they probably could better accomplish by telling GOP Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman to play ball and stop refusing to approve the pipeline route (Heineman is smooth lying when he claims that Obama can approve the Keystone permits while he in Nebraska is still blocking the project from moving forward — the permits approve the project and cannot be approved without a definitive plan).

But back to the decision to cut the EPA’s efforts to keep the nation’s waters relatively Mercury-free (though it is the “sweetest of the transition metals“). When the GOP tells you that they want to begin a discussion by cutting government spending and all they can come up with is eliminating clean water rules, it reveals the paucity of legitimate cuts that can be made to pay for this economy (or at least the lack of cuts the GOP is willing to make). Harry Reid is making a mistake by sensationalizing this issue with scary words because it makes McConnell look like a victim. Rather Reid should say, “we went to the table interested to hear what cuts the GOP could make to the budget to pay for this tax cut and all they could muster was eliminating pollution controls — this shows that real, responsible cuts just aren’t there and only increasing other taxes can keep this policy revenue neutral.” Put the onus on McConnell to explain not just how he doesn’t think Mercury and Arsenic are real problems (a more difficult case to make when not trying to seize the sympathy of a victim), but moreover it forces McConnell to confront the idea that EPA regulations are the best cut he could come up with when all manner of pork barrel projects (like his $1 billion) and bloated, corrupt defense contracts┬áremain unexamined. When the GOP is forced to defend specific cuts over others, rather than the more sympathetic image of “fiscal responsibility” that comes with the idea of “cutting spending generally,” they are backed into a political loss.

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