WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- President Obama pressed congressional Republicans to extend a payroll tax cut, saying not doing so would mean 160 million Americans would see their taxes rise.
"It's the right thing to do," Obama said Monday in a statement delivered at the White House.
He also called on Congress to approve an extension of unemployment benefits that, if allowed to expire at the end of the year, would leave 1.3 million Americans "out in the cold."
He noted that Senate Republicans last week blocked a vote against the payroll tax holiday, which would have been paid for by a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, adding. "I know many Republicans swore an oath never to raise taxes as long as they live" with a catch.
Republicans will fight "tooth and nail" for the wealthiest Americans but "barely lift a finger" for the middle class," Obama said.
Republicans have said they don't object to extending the payroll tax holiday, which sunsets Dec. 31, in theory but want to pay for it by offsetting budget cuts.
Commenting that Republicans haven't always required offsets for tax breaks, Obama said, "Forgive me for a little bit of confusion."
He noted that Republican congressional leaders have indicated they thought the tax holiday -- which Obama wants to expand to roughly $1,500 per person from $1,000 per person -- was good for the economy and that taxes shouldn't be raised while the economic recovery is fragile.
When urging Congress to extend unemployment insurance Obama said it "is the last line of defense between hardship and catastrophe" for a lot of families.
"This isn't just something I want," Obama said, "Independent economists agree if we don't extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, it will hurt our economy … and it will be a self-inflicted wound."
He implored the Republicans to "keep your word to the American people and don't raise taxes on them right now. … Make a difference in the lives of the people who sent us here. Let's get to work."