Johanns: Payroll tax cut “messes around” with Social Security


December 8th, 2011

Omaha, NE – Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns says he can’t support extending the payroll tax cut if it “messes around” with Social Security. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t made much progress finding a compromise.

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Sen. Mike Johanns says he would prefer direct payments to Americans to stimulate the economy, rather than extending the payroll tax cut. (Photo courtesy USDA)

The Senate voted down two competing proposals to extend the payroll tax cut Thursday. Nebraska’s Republican Senator Mike Johanns voted against them both. “I don’t like the Republican approach any better than Democrat approach,” Johanns said in his weekly conference call with reporters. “I just think you’re messing around with Social Security and the consequences of that are very, very bad.”

The payroll tax cut has reduced the amount workers contribute to the Social Security trust fund. The Republican proposal would have kept the tax cut at the same rate and paid for it by freezing federal salaries and cutting federal workers. That suffered a broad defeat: 76-22.

The Democratic proposal would have reduced the tax cut even further and paid for it with a surtax on millionaires. That idea also went down, on a vote of 50-48. Johanns said he voted against that proposal because the surtax would hurt farmers and small business owners. And the economy can’t afford to hurt “job creators,” he said.

“My friends on the other side are just having a joyous time with this,” Johanns said. “This is a way of trying to make an argument that Republicans as wanting to raise taxes for everybody who earns a paycheck… They are just giddy, just nearly giddy.”

“The reality,” he said, “is the people who will pay the price for that giddiness are the Social Security beneficiaries.”

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson voted for his fellow Democrat’s proposal. In a statement after the vote, he said extending the payroll tax cut “should not be controversial.” And he said that plan won’t hurt the Social Security trust fund, because it will be paid for.

But Johanns laughed that idea down, saying the Social Security trust fund is filled with IOUs to begin with, and moving money around will only make it worse. Johanns did say he would prefer direct payments, like the stimulus checks of years past.

Meanwhile, in the House, Republican Speaker John Boehner is advancing his idea to combine a payroll tax cut with construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. For his part, Johanns said he’s signed on to stand-alone legislation that would get the project started. He wouldn’t go so far as saying tying the two together is a bad idea. But he said “that kind of thing happens a lot in Washington.”

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