Human Weather Vane Mitt Romney Shifts on Payroll Tax Cut

Who needs polls when we have Mitt Romney?

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The idea of extending the payroll tax cut polls very well. How do I know? Because human weather vane Mitt Romney suddenly vocally supports it.

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When he was asked about President Obama’s jobs plan during a GOP presidential debate in October, Romney was dismissive of the idea of extending the payroll tax cut on the grounds that it would do nothing to create jobs. Here’s his answer, in full (emphases mine):

MR. ROMNEY: No one likes to see tax increases, but look, the--the stimulus bills the president comes out with that are supposedly going to create jobs, we've now seen this played in the theater several times. And what we're seeing hasn't worked. The American people know that when he--when he went into office and borrowed $800 billion for a massive jobs stimulus program, that they didn't see the jobs. Some of those green jobs we were supposed to get, that's money down the drain. The right course for America is not to keep spending money on stimulus bills, but instead to make permanent changes to the tax code.

Look, when you give--as the president's bill does, if you give a temporary change to the payroll tax and you say, we're going to extend this for a year or two, employers don't hire people for a year or two. They make an investment in a person that goes over a long period of time. And so if you want to get this economy going again, you have to have people who understand how employers think, what it takes to create jobs. And what it takes to create jobs is more than just a temporary shift in a tax stimulus. It needs instead fundamental restructuring of our economy to make sure that we are the most attractive place in the world for investment, for innovation, for growth and for hiring, and we can do that again.

MS. GOLDMAN: So you would be OK with seeing the payroll tax cuts--

MR. ROMNEY: Look, I don't like--(inaudible)-- little Band- Aids. I want to fundamentally restructure America's foundation economically.

Romney gives no indication whatsoever of favoring an extension of the payroll tax. If anything he indicates a willingness to see it rise, saying, “No one likes to see tax increase, but …” to start and giving his much ballyhooed “Band-Aids” answer when questioner Julianna Goldman asserts that he’d be OK with the payroll tax cuts expiring.

That was October. Since then the political winds have started blowing strongly in favor of extending the tax cut—so strongly in fact that, Romney told conservative radio show host Michael Medved, “I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended just because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now—middle-class Americans are having a hard time.”

[ Check out political cartoons about the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls.]

Of course Romney’s camp is outraged at the notion that badmouthing an extension in October and supporting it in December constitutes either a flip or a flop from the famously flexible former Massachusetts governor. “Governor Romney has never met a tax cut he didn't like,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement E-mailed to reporters Monday night. “He has made it clear that he does not believe that by itself the payroll tax cut will create the type of permanent long term change that is needed to turn the economy around.”

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Should the payroll tax cut be extended?]

Let’s give Romney the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that in October he liked the idea of a payroll tax cut extension. The characterization of him as a human weather vane still holds: He kept his support secret in October because he apparently didn’t think a GOP debate audience would cotton to that view; now he’s trumpeting it because the winds have shifted.

Who needs polls when we have Mitt Romney?