WASHINGTON -- News flash: Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes. Impossible, right? GOP lawmakers are so virulently anti-tax, surely they will fight to prevent a payroll tax increase on virtually every wage-earner starting Jan. 1, right? Apparently not.
Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tongs to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different "temporary" tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.
The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a "payroll tax" on practically every dime they earn.
Republicans say their stance is consistent with long-term tax policies that will spur employment and lend greater certainty to the economy.
"It's always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, "but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again." The Texas lawmaker is on the House GOP leadership team.
The debate is likely to boil up as a special bipartisan committee seeks big deficit reductions and weighs which tax cuts are sacrosanct.
At issue is a tax that the vast majority of workers pay, but many don't recognize because they don't read their pay stubs. Workers normally pay 6.2 percent of their wages toward a tax designated for Social Security. Their employer pays an equal amount, for a total of 12.4 percent per worker.
As part of a bipartisan spending deal in December, Congress approved Obama's request to reduce the workers' share to 4.2 percent for one year; employers' rate did not change. Obama wants Congress to extend the reduction for another year. If not, the rate will return to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1.
Social Security payroll taxes apply to the first $106,800 of a worker's wages. Thus, $2,136 is the biggest benefit anyone can gain from the one-year reduction. The great majority make less than $106,800 a year. Millions pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes.
The 12-month tax reduction will cost the government about $120 billion this year, and a similar amount next year if it's renewed.
That worries Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Tax reductions, "no matter how well-intended," will push the deficit higher, making the panel's task that much harder, his office said.
Many Republicans are adamant about not raising taxes but largely silent on what it would mean to let the payroll tax break expire.