Filed Under:

Gingerly, GOP Contenders Address Payroll Tax Cut

Play associated audio

At the end of this month, a payroll tax cut is set to expire that the White House says would result in a tax increase of about $1,000 per year on most middle-class families. The benefit is popular with the American people, which may be one reason President Obama has been relentlessly promoting it.

The president argues that extending the payroll tax "holiday" through 2012 is vital to the economy. Republicans in Congress are divided over that, but they strongly disagree with the president's plan to pay for it with a surtax on millionaires.

For their part, the GOP presidential candidates have addressed the issue only glancingly.

On a conservative radio program Monday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney enthusiastically endorsed the renewal. "I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended just because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now," he told talk show host Michael Medved.

That's a stronger position than he took in Nashua, N.H., last month, when he said, "Modest proposals are not going to get America's economy going again."

Texas Rep. Ron Paul supports extending the tax cut too, according to a spokesman. And so does former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who told PBS he thinks the payroll tax cut "is a good thing. I think it helps a whole lot of people, and I think it's something that would serve to stimulate this economy going forward."

Other candidates are less enthusiastic. A spokesman for Rick Perry says the Texas governor does not support what he called "short-term gimmicks."

The Newt Gingrich campaign says the former House speaker plans to phase out the payroll tax cut but did not specify when.

And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told CNN that since the tax cut didn't create jobs, it should end. "This payroll tax deduction didn't do what President Obama promised," she said. "Why would we continue something that isn't working?"

For candidates who support renewing the benefit, the trickier question is how to pay for it. None of the campaigns gave an exact accounting of where the money would come from. Almost all of them say how they would not fund the extension: As Romney put it in Nashua, "I don't want to raise taxes on anybody."

Michael Franc, vice president for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says it's not surprising that candidates are reluctant to wade into the details of this debate. Would-be presidents would rather focus on the big picture.

"What they're trying to do with the voters is say, 'Here's my value system, here's how I would apply it, here's what I would do,' whether it's to the tax code or to entitlement programs or to spending trajectories in general," Franc says.

So many of the candidates quickly shift from talking about the payroll tax cut to the bigger issue of fundamental tax reform — overhauling the system to make it cleaner and simpler, with fewer loopholes and patches.

Franc says the real problem is that a record number of provisions in the U.S. tax code now have expiration dates.

"It's kind of like in your household budget," he says. "If you had to renegotiate your cable contract or your budget every month, that would pretty much preclude you from dealing with longer-term family budgetary issues or investment decisions."

Leaders of both parties agree that this is a major issue, so a fundamental tax overhaul is on everybody's to-do list. But when Congress can't even agree on how to resolve these short-term tax debates, solutions to the long-term issues seem more unattainable than ever.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Ricky Gervais On Controversial Jokes, Celebrities And 'Special Correspondents'

"I didn't go out there to ruin everyone's day or undermine the moral fabric of America. I was making jokes." Gervais talked with NPR's Rachel Martin about his new movie and how he approaches humor.
NPR

When It Came To Food, Neanderthals Weren't Exactly Picky Eaters

During the Ice Age, it seems Neanderthals tended to chow down on whatever was most readily available. Early humans, on the other hand, maintained a consistent diet regardless of environmental changes.
NPR

With Primary Season In Final Stretch, Sanders Reports Slowed Fundraising

Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign reported a $26 million haul in April, far below his totals in February and March. Still, Sanders' donations have outpaced his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
NPR

'The Guardian' Launches New Series Examining Online Abuse

A video was released this week where female sports journalists were read abusive online comments to their face. It's an issue that reaches far beyond that group, and The Guardian is taking it on in a series called "The Web We Want." NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with series editor Becky Gardiner and writer Nesrine Malik, who receives a lot of online abuse.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.