If your taxes go up 10 days from now, you will know whom to blame: U.S. House Republicans, including all of those in Florida and Tampa Bay. They are the ones who failed to support bipartisan legislation to extend the payroll tax cut that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate. They are the ones who rejected an extension of long-term unemployment benefits for 3 million Americans. And they are the ones who should be held accountable in the next election for their callous indifference to the needs of their constituents.
Here we are, three days before Christmas and 10 days before New Year's, and Republicans in Congress are still playing a political poker game. They are more interested in staring down President Barack Obama than in providing peace of mind to workers that their payroll taxes aren't going up and to the jobless that their benefits won't be abruptly cut. No wonder voter approval of Congress hovers just above single digits.
Voters tend to like their own representatives more than Congress as an institution, but they should hold them accountable for this failure. U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Brooksville and C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores voted with their Republican colleagues on Tuesday to effectively reject the Senate compromise. Last week in the Senate, even Republican Marco Rubio joined with Democrat Bill Nelson and voted for the temporary extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, leaving the next round of political fighting until March. But the House Republicans were more interested in joining the most extreme members of their own party and propping up a weak House speaker than in representing the best interests of Floridians.
It's not too late for reasonable Republicans to stand up to the tea party faction that has created this gridlock in Washington. Whatever happened to Republicans such as Young, who worked with members of both parties for decades and knows how to reach compromises? House Speaker John Boehner is a leader in title only, and he has repeatedly demonstrated he cannot deliver the votes after negotiating a deal with the president or the Senate. The chamber has lost its way, and the loudest and most rigid partisans should not be allowed to hold the country hostage.
There are indications that the House strategy is backfiring. At least six Republican senators, including such veterans as Richard Lugar of Indiana, have called on the House to pass the Senate bill. A Wall Street Journal editorial on Wednesday referred to congressional Republicans as a "circular firing squad,'' complained they are losing the political battle to Democrats and urged a quick resolution to the standoff over the extension of the payroll tax cut. That's good advice.
While the unemployment rate in Florida is slowly declining, it's still higher than the nation's. Floridians need every nickel they can get, and the state's fragile economy needs more consumer spending to create more jobs. The Senate's legislation offers only a two-month extension of the payroll tax reduction and additional unemployment benefits, but it keeps that money flowing for the time being and the House should pass it. If Bilirakis, Nugent and Young don't see how much Tampa Bay residents need this help, they should get out more and spend less time supporting their tea party colleagues and ineffective leaders in Washington.