Democrats Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD) and Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) have come out with strong criticism of the bill that would extend the payroll tax holiday that was started in 2011. Hoyer says he will vote against the bill because it cuts pensions for government workers:
"When we work to protect the middle class, it is only right to protect them all, and federal workers are hardworking Americans who have already contributed $60 billion to deficit reduction over the next decade," Hoyer said in a statement. "Our deficit problems were not created by these men and women, and they will not be solved by only asking them to contribute.
"We must stop targeting these hardworking men and women while not asking others to contribute their fair share," he added. "For that reason, I cannot support this bill.”
Few Democrats have stood up for government employees, who have faced stagnating wages and layoffs during the Barack Obama administration, moves that have held back job and economic growth.
Harkin is upset with the provision in the bill that would extend the payroll tax holiday because he said it would start the unraveling of the Social Security trust fund by failing to adequately provide a dedicated revenue stream for the program:
"This Congress will be making a grave mistake -- a grave mistake -- and reinforcing a dangerous precedent," Harkin said in a dramatic Senate floor speech late Thursday. "And I’m dismayed that Democrats, including a Democratic president and a Democratic vice president, have proposed this, and are willing to sign off on a deal that could begin the unraveling of Social Security."
Harkin argued that Social Security had always been strong and protected because it was funded by its own dedicated tax stream that ensured every American would be guaranteed a basic income in their retirements, and that the program added not "even one dime to the deficits or the national debt."
But he said now that Congress was going to pay for this cut with borrowed money from the general treasury funds, the best argument of the program's defenders was gone.
"With this bill, we can no longer say that. We can no longer say that Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit," Harkin said.
He argued that a far better plan would have been to simply grant working Americans rebates on their income taxes, the way Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had done in recent years.
Hauling Social Security into the equation, he said, betrays the legacy of Democratic presidents who started the program and strengthened it over the years, from Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy.
"This, I believe has been the hallmark and the underpinning of the party that I've been proud to belong to," Harkin said. "Cutting the payroll tax is a bad idea, terrible idea. I'm embarrassed that it's being proposed by a Democratic president and a Democratic vice president."
Many progressives were skeptical of the payroll tax holiday for the exact reason that Harkin is talking about here. Maybe other Democrats will start to listen. Probably not.