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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In one tidy package, the Republican leadership in Congress has presented their priorities to the American people: Protect millionaires, industrial polluters, gouging doctors and fossil-fuel refiners, while sacrificing the interests of federal workers and the long-term unemployed. Those were the highlights of the Republican-controlled House plan that passed Tuesday to salvage the payroll tax holiday.

Congressional Republicans say it’s a crime against all that is sacred (read Grover Norquist) to ask millionaires to pay one bit more in taxes, but they were reluctant to extend a payroll tax holiday that would add about $1,000 to the average working family’s pay next year. House Speaker John Boehner had to lard up the extension of the payroll tax cut with what has been called “ideological candy” to line up his party’s stalwarts.

What goodies did they choose?

The biggie was the proposed Keystone pipeline from Canada to refineries in Texas. Boehner tied middle-class tax relief to speedy approval of the 1,900 mile pipeline, even as the State Department said a delay is needed to study routes that bypass a huge aquifer under Nebraska and other states. To Republicans, clean drinking water is a luxury.

It’s a lot like their philosophy on clean air, which is why they added polluter protections to the bill to block air-emission rules on industrial boilers and incinerators that release mercury and other toxins.

Nice, huh? Would you really want to live in the world they create?

Then there’s this little giveaway to doctor-owned hospitals. Even as Republicans say that curbing waste is necessary to taming health care costs, their leaders protect special interests. Study after study has found that doctors tend to order more medical tests and procedures when they have a financial interest in a hospital. The 2010 health reform law cracked down, but House Republicans rode to the rescue.

They’ve proposed loosened restrictions, which would allow more doctor-owned hospitals to open if construction had already begun by the end of last year, or to expand if they were already operational. This would increase federal health-related spending by $300 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Never mind what such excessive medical intervention does to patient health.

Government largesse for doctor-owned hospitals is one thing. Helping to keep the long-term unemployed afloat financially, well, that’s a step too far. The Republican plan would renew extended federal unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the year, but it would shorten their availability by more than half of the current maximum. Due to the way extended federal unemployment is designed, states with the highest unemployment would suffer the biggest cuts in benefits.

It doesn’t seem to matter that we have a historic crisis of long-term unemployment, with 5.7 million Americans out there who haven’t found a job in at least 27 weeks. Republicans think the unemployed, who average $289 a week in benefits, aren’t hungry enough. Their plan will surely change that. And to make the process of applying for unemployment benefits as undignified as possible, the Boehner bill would allow states to drug test all applicants if they chose to.

As for paying for the payroll tax holiday, congressional Republicans threw themselves against the Democrats’ plan to impose a 1.9 percent surtax on incomes above a million dollars. What the House passed instead was an extended freeze on wages for federal workers. For Republicans, holding wages down for middle-class workers is always preferable to asking for sacrifice from the nation’s wealthiest households, although they did include a provision that would raise the cost of Medicare for affluent seniors.

Obviously Boehner knew that his plan, which passed 234 to 193 with 10 Democrats joining all but 14 Republicans, was not going anywhere. The Democrat-controlled Senate wasn’t going to agree and neither was President Barack Obama. Instead Boehner used the bill as a platform to show voters what Republicans stand for.

It couldn’t be any clearer.

(You can respond to Robyn’s column at blumner@sptimes.com.)

(c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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