President Obama Urges John Boehner to Pass The Senate Payroll Tax Cut

President Barack Obama demanded on Tuesday that Republicans in the House of Representatives pass a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, showing an unwillingness to back down in a fight that could result in higher taxes for 160 million Americans.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the payroll tax cut during a statement in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Dec. 20, 2011. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at Tuesday’s White House briefing to send a message directly to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): Quit the politicking and vote on the Senate-passed payroll tax cut. Now.

“The clock is ticking. Time is running out. And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days,” he said.

“I’m calling on the Speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote,” Obama said during brief remarks.

“This is not poker, this is not a game,” he continued. “We have more important things to worry about than saving face, or figuring out internal caucus politics.”

Obama dismissed the House GOP argument that a two-month extension isn’t long enough, since Democrats and the White House have said that they, too, agree on the need for a year-long extension.

The problem, however, is that the parties can’t agree on how to pay for it. The two-month extension is fully paid for and costs $33 billion; a year-long extension would come in at about $200 billion.

As both sides dug more deeply into entrenched positions, House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, demanded Obama order Senate Democrats back into session to haggle over a year-long extension.

“I need the president to help out,” Boehner told reporters, drawing applause from a large group of Republican lawmakers standing behind him in the Capitol.

Prospects for the Democratic-controlled Senate reopening negotiations remained dim as Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid insisted he would not recall the chamber to reopen negotiations. Reid has won backing from some Republicans in the Senate, who have called on their colleagues in the House to back the deal.

The White House and Senate Democrats have summarily rejected calls by House Republican leaders to go into conference and make changes to the Senate-passed bill. Instead, their strategy appears to be to put pressure on House GOP leaders to cave, bring up the Senate-passed bill for a straight up-or-down vote, and watch it pass.

Tuesday’s House vote wasn’t a straight up-or-down vote on the Senate bill; instead, it was on a “motion to reject” the bill. A straight vote on the bill could expedite it directly to the president, and Democrats contend it would pass if House Republican leaders would let it come up.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has said the two-month plan came about in part because Boehner asked Reid and Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s leading Republican, to devise a compromise that could pass the House while talks continued on a one-year extension of the tax cut.

Democrats, meanwhile, are making a point of questioning Boehner’s leadership. They say he has lost control of the Republican caucus to Cantor and other aggressive conservatives backed by the Tea Party, which seeks to limit government and steadfastly rejects tax increases.

“We have a bipartisan compromise that would prevent taxes from going up in January,” said Rep. Steve Israel, a new York Democrat. “The Senate agreed to it. House Democrats agreed to it. Lots of people agree to it. And now extremist Republicans in the House” are saying no.

Both parties believe they have the upper hand in the year-end battle. Republicans are betting Democrats fear a voter backlash in 2012 if the tax break expires and will eventually bow to their demands. Democrats, however, are gambling the same is true for Republicans.

The House Republican demand for a one-year extension marks a surprising turnabout since for months they were openly skeptical of its economic benefits. Now they argue a two-month extension creates uncertainty for workers and employers and is unworkable.

“Let’s not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it; they’re tired of it. They expect better,” said the president, who abruptly left without taking questions. [via Reuters and Huffington Post]

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