Well, they've done it again.
The Senate this morning followed through on its threat -- I can't bring myself to refer to anything that either body of this Congress says or does as a promise; that's just way too positive a term for how lawmakers now minimally conduct their business -- and extended the 4.2 percent payroll tax rate for two months.
The vote was 89-to-10 to keep the payroll tax at its current reduced rate through February.
The deal also contains a provision, known as the "doc fix," that sets reimbursement rates for Medicare providers, as well as a two-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits.
Pipeline posturing: Oh, yes, there's also the language about the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.
The president, who wants to postpone a decision on the controversial oil transport method, now must make a decision on the project within 60 days of the bill's enactment. That effectively means, say Washington watchers, that the pipeline will be killed, as Obama is expected to refuse to issue a permit.
Of course, that really doesn't matter to the Republicans who strong-armed the pipeline into the payroll tax bill.
They have their vote on the project and the presidential refusal to give it a green light works out better for them as campaign fodder in 2012. Those jobs that would be created by the building of it are just as effective for candidates regardless of whether they're real -- "See what we got you!" -- or not -- "We tried, but the Democratic White House killed them!"
Cynical much? Yes, although I like to call myself realistic.
So if the House, which is expected to vote on the two-month extension next week OKs the deal (although with these folks, approval is not a foregone conclusion), we'll be back here in early 2012 to fight the same payroll tax, unemployment and Medicare battles as before.
Making other jobs more difficult: In the meantime, company payroll administrators and the firms to which most outsource the job, along with the IRS, will be stuck with officially makeshift rules.
In early December, the IRS issued its official annual announcement, Notice 1036, regarding the coming year's payroll withholding tables:
"The tax rate for social security is 6.2% each for the employee and employer. The social security wage base limit is $110,100. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% each for the employee and employer, unchanged from 2011. There is no wage base limit for Medicare tax."
The tax agency, however, is used to dealing with lawmakers who refuse to do their jobs in a timely manner. So it also issued a warning:
But again, that's not the concern of Congress. Representatives and Senators have always had a tough time grasping the pragmatic effects of their actions.
We had a similar situation around this time last year, when Congress waited until the 11th hour to approve the original payroll tax cut, leaving companies, the IRS and workers scrambling then, too.
But as the Occupy Congress image appearing at the top of this post notes, maybe after Nov. 6, 2012, we won't have to worry for much longer about some of the members of Congress responsible for these shenanigans.
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