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Obama heads for Hawaii after signing payroll tax deal; urges Congress to end the drama

Obama heads for Hawaii after signing payroll tax deal; urges Congress to end the drama
U.S. President Barack Obama Friday headed for a Hawaiian vacation after urging Congress to approach the nation's problems "without drama" in the coming year. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Friday urged Congress to approach the nation's problems "without drama" in the coming year before heading for a Hawaiian vacation.

Obama signed a bill extending the Social Security payroll tax holiday for 60 days and unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, and postponing a 27.3 percent reduction in Medicare payments to doctors.

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He was supposed to leave for Hawaii last Saturday but postponed his vacation, waiting for action on the payroll tax deal. First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha went ahead.

Before leaving, he also signed the omnibus spending bill to keep the government from shutting down, despite objections to a number of provisions he said in a signing statement are unconstitutional.

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Though he thanked Congress for finally approving the payroll tax measure as the "right thing to do" for families and the economy, he cautioned lawmakers to dial down the rhetoric in 2012.

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"And when Congress returns, I urge them to keep working, without drama, without delay, to reach an agreement that extends this tax cut, as well as unemployment insurance, through all of 2012," Obama said.

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Friday's action capped a week of brinksmanship during which the Senate overwhelmingly approved the temporary fix and then headed home. Though House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, initially signed off on the deal, Tea Party Republicans balked, refusing to allow the Senate bill to be brought up for a vote and insisting on a deal covering all of 2012. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then pressured House Republicans to accept the temporary fix with a minor revision and Congress approved it by unanimous consent -- meaning no quorum was necessary for a vote.

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"Last week, I said that this should be a formality, and that's still the case," Obama said. "So let's make sure that we extend this tax break and unemployment insurance for a full year for families, but also for our economy. It's the right thing to do because more money spent by more Americans means more businesses hiring more workers. And that's a boost for everybody, and it's a boost that we very much need right now."

Obama noted there's still much more that needs to be done.

"This continues to be a make-or-break moment for the middle class in this country, and we're going to have to roll up our sleeves together, Democrats and Republicans, to make sure that the economy is growing and to make sure that more jobs are created," he said.

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"We've got an economy that is showing some positive signs. We've seen many consecutive months of private sector job growth, but it's not happening as fast as it needs to. And that means that we've got to redouble our efforts, working together.

"It also means that we've got to make sure we're rebuilding an economy where if you work hard, that work will be rewarded, the kind of economy where everyone's doing their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules; everybody has a fair chance; and everybody's acting responsibly, including those of us here in Washington.

"So there are going to be some important debates next year; some tough fights, I'm sure, in the years to come. But that's the kind of country that I'm fighting for; one where everybody has a fair chance and everybody is doing their fair share. That's the kind of country that I think the American people deserve and the kind of country that American people want."

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