The news that Senator Tester voted against President Obama’s Jobs bill this week has met with a somewhat predictable response: calls for a primary challenge, refusals to support the Senator, and accusations that he is betraying Democratic values. While I understand some of the frustration, the reaction seems overblown—and in some cases, motivated by personal animus rather than policy considerations.
Do I think we need a large-scale federal program to help create jobs and prevent the economy from sinking even further? Absolutely—and I’ve written so in the past. Like Senator Tester, I think the Recovery Act did a great deal to soften the blow of the recession. I think it should have been much larger, in fact.
So why am I not calling out Senator Tester? First, because I take him at his word that the bill was problematic. In an effort to woo Republican support, President Obama loaded the bill with tax cuts and incentives. Specifically, the bill would have once again extended the cuts to payroll taxes, an incredibly dangerous game– as Social Security advocates have noted:
But Social Security advocates worry that these temporary payroll tax cuts will never be restored. “The problem is, it is very easy in our current political climate to cut revenue and very hard to increase it,” says Nancy Altman, co-director of the Strengthen Social Security coalition and author of The Battle for Social Security, an excellent history of the program and its politics.
“Look at the controversy over ending the Bush tax cuts, which would only affect a small portion of taxpayers,” Altman says. “In this case, if you propose restoring the payroll tax down the road, you’d have to double the rates on workers making minimum wage. This is being sold as temporary, but it’s not likely to work out that way.”
Crooks and Liars makes the case more clear:
Here’s the problem with extending the payroll tax cuts: They’re unlikely to ever be restored. And if they’re not restored, you’ve done what Republicans have been trying to do for decades: turned Social Security into a welfare program that no longer pays for itself, but comes out of the general fund and for the first time, adds to the deficit.
That’s one very good reason to oppose the but it’s not the only one. While Senator Tester made it clear that his vote was not motivated by politics, I’m going to suggest that it was absolutely the right political decision, one that serves the best interests of his re-election and the people that re-election will serve.
From my vantage point, once again President Obama weakly lobbed up another bill that had zero chance of passing from the outset, with no chance of Republican support, and expected Senators in tight races to jump on the grenade again. The only thing they would accomplish? Giving their political opponents, like the entirely unprincipled Denny Rehberg, more ammunition to use against them.
Let’s put the blame where it truly lies, on a President, who for the sake of his own re-election chances, handed Democratic Senators a toxic bill that wouldn’t pass if every single Democrat had voted for it.
And for this we should condemn Senator Tester?
Critics of the Senator might argue that somehow Senator Tester voted against the interests of teachers and workers with his vote, but that’s just too simplistic. And it’s not true.
Even if I want something more than either President Obama or Senator Tester can deliver, I’m certainly not going to fault the latter for making a vote that sensible both in terms of policy and politics.