The United States Congress has taken divided politics to a new level. And that's saying a lot for this cast of characters. Five days ago it appeared a deal was done to prevent American workers' taxes from going up on Jan. 1 - appeared. Today, we're back on shaky ground.
The conservative House says the Senate deal reached Saturday that called for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and what is being called "doc fix" spending - a delay in scheduled pay cuts to Medicare physicians - wasn't enough; they want a one-year deal and sought to continue negotiations to renew the payroll tax cut for a year.
The House needed 212 votes to nix the Senate plan and got 229. All Democrats voted no, including Minnesota's Collin Peterson (District 7) and Tim Walz (District 1). Seven House Republicans joined them. Twelve House members didn't vote, including two - Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul - who are skipping these important votes as they put their presidential aspirations above their duties as elected officials.
What does this mean? Well, if the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate can't agree on some kind of bill by the end of the year, payroll taxes will go up by 2 percentage points for 160 million workers on Jan. 1. That's 10 days away, folks.
Almost 2 million people would lose unemployment benefits come January, and doctors would take on major cuts in Medicare payments.
On Saturday, we saw the benefits of bipartisanship as senators worked together to avoid a tax hike and spare hard-working Americans. By Monday, we realized the deal reached by our senators was nothing more than a blip on the bipartisanship screen.
Now, it's back to the Boehner-Obama dance - Republican House Speaker John Boehner penned a letter to President Obama, urging him to get the senators to return from their holiday break so talks can resume. Senate leaders and Obama scoffed at the idea and said the bipartisan compromise reached last weekend is the "only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1."
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said earlier this week that the ongoing scuffle is "harming the viewof the American people about Congress."
You don't say. We didn't think much of them before this week, Senator.
While the Senate is trying to make the House look bad and the House is returning the favor, both are taking a hit in the voters' eyes less than a year before Election Day 2012. House Republicans should do themselves a favor by swallowing hard and cutting their losses and agreeing to extend the payroll holiday.
But what makes this an even harder pill to swallow is that the American people who will be the ones hurt by Congress' indecision were cruelly teased last weekend. We were encouraged by that flicker of bipartisanship, then let down when party politics made its triumphant return a few short days later.