Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted this weekend that he, at least, isn't willing to go back to war with Democrats over how to pay for the payroll tax cut extension bill. That issue has been nearly as problematic for Congress to work out as the House Republicans' insistence on making dumb political points with totally unrelated riders. Keystone XL pipeline, anyone?
Democrats have pushed a surtax on millionaires to pay for the extension, while Republicans have wanted to slash spending elsewhere. The Senate Republicans tried to just to get on with the negotiations and keep the House from making all Republicans look bad by refusing to allow tax breaks for the middle class.
Now there is just a hint of softening in that position. On CNN's State of the Union this weekend, host Candy Crowley asked McConnell whether it would be possible to pay, at least partially, for the tax holiday extension with tax increases on the wealthy. He didn't rule it out, but instead tried to change the subject to the deficit.
“Would you pay for it partially with any kind of tax increase? Would you agree to that?” McConnell was asked by CNN’s “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley.
“We have this problem, at the risk of being repetitious, because we spend way too much. We now have a debt the size of our economy. [...]
Crowley pressed, “But you're not saying no, which is interesting to me. ... Usually you all flatly rule out any kind of tax increase and you're not.”
“I'm not going to negotiate this agreement with you this morning, but I want the American people to understand that we now have a debt the size of our economy,” McConnell said.
It's not a done deal by any means, but McConnell's refusal to rule out the tax hike on millionaires is movement. The payroll tax cut extension isn't the only issue here, as the bill also includes an extension of unemployment benefits and funding to prevent a 27 percent cut to physicians and providers for Medicare patients.
Back in November, McConnell was absolutely refusing to consider it. McConnell wants to get this negotiating done and out of the way, understanding just how much damage was done by House Republicans and their shenanigans. This is an advantage Democrats need to press, and they need to press it by keeping the hugely popular millionaires' surtax alive.