Obama calls Boehner and Reid on tax cut

Dec. 21, 2011 at 1:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- President Obama told House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid he's ready to work with Congress to extend the tax cut for a full year.

The White House, in a statement, said the president called both leaders separately Wednesday and "reiterated the need and his commitment to work with Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year." Obama told Boehner the bipartisan compromise passed by the Senate to extend the tax holiday for two months "is the only option to ensure that middle class families aren't hit with a tax hike in 10 days and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full year solution."

Obama urged the speaker to permit a vote on the compromise so Social Security payroll taxes for 160 million Americans do not return to their 2010 levels.

The decision by House Republicans to refuse a bipartisan deal to extend a payroll tax cut has left the party divided and given Democrats an advantage, political analysts said.

Though GOP leaders say theirs is a principled stand because they want a year-long extension, not a two-month tax break, the move has brought the Republicans criticism from all sides, including the influential Wall Street Journal editorial board, not usually friendly to Democrats.

"GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest," the board wrote Wednesday.

The GOP has handed Democrats an issue with which to hammer them throughout the holidays, it said.

"The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play."

The House Tuesday voted 229-193 to set aside a Senate bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans for two months, and instead demanded the Senate reopen negotiations to create a measure that would last an entire year.

The Senate adjourned Saturday and is not scheduled to return until Jan. 23.

Reid said he would not call the Senate back into session or even appoint conferees to meet with the House unless the House agrees to take the Senate bill back to the floor and actually vote on it.

The House vote was procedurally structured as a motion to reject the Senate deal, rather than to vote on it. This meant House members who supported the deal were unable to vote for its adoption.

No Democrats joined the GOP majority in rejecting the Senate bill. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting against defeating the Senate measure and sending it to the conference.

Boehner, R-Ohio, called on the president to summon the Senate back to Washington, despite the approaching holidays.

But Obama said House Republicans were pressing a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance and safety in the hope of securing a political advantage.

"Let's not play brinksmanship," Obama said in the White House briefing room, sweeping unannounced into his press secretary's Tuesday daily briefing with White House reporters. "The American people are weary of it. They're tired of it.

"I'm calling on the speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote. Give the American people the assurance they need in this holiday season."

Obama said the Senate compromise was "the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1 -- it's the only one."

He alleged the real reason for House Republican opposition to the Senate deal "is to wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut, issues where the parties fundamentally disagree."

Some GOP senators who voted for the two-month extension joined Obama in urging their House GOP colleagues to do the same.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican nominee for president, said the ugly fight was damaging his party and hurting an already-battered Congress.

"It is harming the Republican Party," McCain told CNN. "It is harming the view, if it's possible, any more of the American people about Congress. And we've got to get this thing resolved and with the realization that the payroll tax cut must remain in effect."

If Congress doesn't act by Dec. 31, payroll taxes would rise to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent Jan. 1, costing the average worker $24 a week. In addition, some 2.5 million jobless workers would lose federal unemployment benefits by mid-February and doctors serving Medicare patients would face a 27.4 percent cut in federal reimbursements.

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