What qualifies a Republican as a moderate in 2010? He votes in favor of allowing Senate debate on a pro-business "jobs" bill, mainly comprising tax exemptions for businesses that hire new workers and additional tax credits to employers who hold on to their new hires for at least a year. The bar could hardly be lower for Massachusetts freshman Scott Brown, who needs a few shows of independence from his party's extremism in order win re-election in 2012. Indeed, it's hard to imagine that Brown's "independent" vote was not tacitly blessed by his colleagues, including John Cornyn, Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He's been twice blessed by the reported outrage of right-wing "Facebook friends and the Twittering class."
Not that Democrats aren't seeking (and may glean) political advantage for defeating another threatened filibuster with minimal bi-partisan support. Harry Reid giddily anticipates
the "beginning of a new day here in the Senate," now that, in the hope of stimulating employment and securing a legislative win, Democrats have surrendered to Republican demands for tax breaks to businesses. Barbara Boxer announced that "jobs triumphed over politics."
Did they? The political benefits (to Brown and maybe the Democratic majority) are clear; the benefits to unemployed workers less so. Will businesses that don't need or can't afford new workers hire them for the sake of a payroll tax break? Will the tax breaks function as dispositive hiring incentives? Or will they provide bonuses for businesses that would have hired new workers anyway? As one successful businessman I know explains, "Business people hire workers when they need them, and the incremental savings of the employer's share of the payroll tax, plus the promise of a $1,000 year end tax credit pales compared to the cost of hiring and maintaining an employee."
Should we depend on the tax code to create jobs? I don't know the answer but similar questions are worth asking about other tax incentives. Would real estate development during the boom years have been deterred by the withdrawal of huge tax benefits to developers? Maybe, maybe not. Did the estate tax ever stop anyone from accumulating great wealth? That, at least, is a purely rhetorical question.