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What others say: Payroll tax dilemma

Published: Friday, Dec. 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, accompanied by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters about extending the payroll tax cut, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Associated Press

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The following editorial appeared recently in the Kansas City Star:

The looming congressional showdown over whether to extend Social Security payroll tax cuts has both political parties playing to their support bases, ignoring the compromises and shared sacrifices that Americans expect.

Democrats are pushing to extend tax cuts that keep about $1,000 a year in the pockets of middle-class families earning $50,000 a year. They're proposing to pay for it with a new tax on those earning more than $1 million a year.

Republicans are saying the payroll tax reduction hasn't produced the benefits of others such as the Bush tax cuts. They note that while the cut should only be extended if paid for, taxing millionaires is a bad idea for a fragile economy.

The debate, of course, dances around the fact that the payroll tax is intended to fund Social Security, and that payouts on Social Security have now exceeded revenue from the tax. If Social Security is to survive and thrive, it will require commitment and sacrifice from all.

It is disappointing that, once again, Americans aren't hearing about reasonable compromise in this matter.

Letting the payroll tax cut expire and returning the rate to 6.2 percent on most working Americans would represent a burden on middle-class workers. While not threatening to lifestyle, a tax hike on the wealthy may be a hardship, as well.

But it is time to think about the long-term health of the nation, and not the short-term attractiveness to voters. Instead of facing off in a world of either/or, why not both?

The average family would have difficulty finding an extra $1,000 a year in its budget. But there should be a compromise level to which the payroll tax could rise, creating a manageable sacrifice for the middle class.

At the same time, some level of tax increase on the wealthy certainly also is necessary, especially with corporate profits at record levels and capital gains tax rates low enough to mean some of the richest Americans now pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than the middle class.

Any tax increase, even if only the rolling back of a tax cut, damages pocketbooks. But Washington, for reasons of political expediency, has been putting off dealing with some fundamental problems for far too long. Despite what politicians from both parties think of Americans, we are not afraid of sacrifice. We only insist that it be shared.

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