It’s strange. I was all set to write an arti­cle in (back­handed) praise of House Repub­li­cans get­ting behind a bill to extend the pay­roll tax cuts through Novem­ber. The praise was for the bill being a single-​​issue bill, which is in line with their 2010 promise to vot­ers. And back­handed for wait­ing until it became clear that they were going to take the blame for the pay­roll tax cut expiring.

But now I’m afraid I must with­hold the ear­lier praise I was going to give. Not that any­one in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia was exactly hold­ing their breath for my praise any­way, but why have a polit­i­cal blog if you can’t issue cheers and jeers?

Any­way, it’s hard for me to issue any­thing but half-​​hearted cheers for the cur­rent deal. So today is a bit of a rant.

Oh, sure, it’s nice that unem­ploy­ment insur­ance ben­e­fits will be extended. That money will cer­tainly go right into the econ­omy, since it’s pretty unlikely that recip­i­ents will sit on the money. And the pay­roll tax cut will do some­thing vaguely sim­i­lar for the peo­ple for­tu­nate enough to have a job right now. And the “doc fix” in Medicare will assuredly keep doc­tors who would oth­er­wise drop Medicare patients from doing so.

But, really, this is kick­ing the can out to after the Novem­ber elec­tions, with­out any real solu­tions. And no cuts any­where to off­set the costs.

I have no qualms about the unem­ploy­ment insur­ance exten­sion, as long as we remain in an econ­omy with far more peo­ple with­out jobs than jobs with­out peo­ple. The exten­sions should not, how­ever, per­sist if unem­ploy­ment is drop­ping rapidly, or near­ing five percent.

But the pay­roll tax cut? It’s tak­ing money away from the Social Secu­rity Trust Fund, and giv­ing it to peo­ple who already have jobs. A smaller per­cent­age of these dol­lars will be injected into the econ­omy than dol­lars in unem­ploy­ment insur­ance ben­e­fits. It’s pop­u­lar because it’s very hard for Repub­li­cans to say no to a tax cut of any kind, and it’s a low-​​conflict way to get some extra dol­lars into the econ­omy, with some ben­e­fit. But this smacks far more of pan­der­ing and polit­i­cal games­man­ship than any par­tic­u­larly well-​​devised eco­nomic the­ory or prin­ci­ple. In that regard, it’s sim­i­lar, though slightly worse, than the $300 checks that were handed out dur­ing the Bush years.

The “doc fix” avoids address­ing an issue that has been brew­ing since Newt Gin­grich was Speaker of the House. The Bal­anced Bud­get Act of 1997 changed the way Medicare pay­ments were made to med­ical providers. But, over time, the change led to ever increas­ing cuts. When 2002 rolled around, an impend­ing cut of five per­cent led doc­tors around the coun­try to threaten to drop Medicare patients if the cut went through. So Con­gress passed a law to hold the cut off for that year.

And every year thereafter.

But why hasn’t this been fixed once and for all? Because Con­gress can’t agree to accept the expense (pro­jected to be $300 bil­lion over ten years). So they spend it, one year at a time, while pre­tend­ing that these expen­di­tures won’t con­tinue any longer. It’s cowardly.

And, lest any­one be con­fused, I’m not point­ing the fin­ger at any par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal party. Repub­li­cans did it in 2002. Democ­rats did it in 2009. Repub­li­cans are back to doing it in 2012.

This deal is cow­ardly. It will help things out a lit­tle bit, but it’s a ban­dage when surgery is needed. And the doc­tors are refus­ing to oper­ate. Maybe we need a dif­fer­ent kind of “doc fix”.