In N.H. Trip, Obama Pushes Keeping Payroll Tax Cut

New Hampshire voters have seen plenty of the Republican presidential candidates. But on Tuesday, they got a visit from President Obama, who was promoting part of his jobs plan. The payroll tax cut is due to expire at the end of next month.

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While Republicans prepared to debate yesterday, a debate we've heard elsewhere in this program, President Obama was visiting New Hampshire. He appeared in that state, which holds the nation's first primary. New Hampshire is also an important general election state and the president's appearance offered a counterweight to all the Republicans who've been busy there. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

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SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Supporters of President Obama who crowded into the gym at Manchester Central High School had plenty of time to enjoy the marching band as they waited for the president. He stopped off along the way for a cup of coffee with a high school trigonometry teacher, who's also a retired Army colonel.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Before I came to school today I had...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mic check.

OBAMA: ...I had coffee.

GROUP: Mic Check.

HORSLEY: The president was briefly interrupted, Occupy Wall Street-style, but the demonstrators were quickly drowned out. Mr. Obama said he understood the demonstrators' frustration and the fear that the American dream seems to be slipping away.

OBAMA: Supposed to be a big, compassionate country where everybody who works hard should have a chance to get ahead. Not just the person who owns the factory, but the men and women who work on the factory floor.

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HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says those are the ideals that got him into politics. The payroll tax cut he signed last year saved the average working family about a thousand dollars this year, but it's due to expire at the end of December. Mr. Obama says Congress should not only extend the tax cut, but enlarge it, so working families would save an average of $1,500 next year.

OBAMA: And that's $1,500 that would have been taken out of your paycheck, would instead be going into your pocket. And that means you'd be spending in small businesses.

HORSLEY: The president wants to offset the cost of that payroll tax cut with higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. That's been the sticking point with Republicans in Congress.

OBAMA: You know the American people are with us on this. And it's time for the folks who are running around spending all their time talking about what's wrong with America, to spend some time rolling up their sleeves to help us rebuild America.

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HORSLEY: Republican Mitt Romney attempted a political time warp, leapfrogging his primary competitors and taking direct aim at Mr. Obama. In full page newspaper ads, Romney declared the president's economic policies have failed. And he debuted a new TV ad that warps both time and the truth, in trying to use Mr. Obama's own words against him.

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OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose, lose, lose.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama did say that in 2008, but Romney's ad omits the fact that Mr. Obama was quoting someone from John McCain's campaign at the time.

In 2011, the president has not shied away from talking about the economy, insisting it's on the mend, if all too slowly. Some of that improvement is visible here in New Hampshire.

At Rico's Barber Shop, not far from Central High, Jonathan DeJesus says business is picking up. Holidays are always a good time for a haircut.

JONATHAN DEJESUS: I used to live in Florida. It's a lot better over here than it is in Florida. Like, I cut hair so no matter what at the end of the day everyone needs a haircut, so.

HORSLEY: New Hampshire's unemployment rate is under 5.5 percent. Well below the national average.

DEJESUS: We actually have steady customers that come once a week. Some of them come twice a week. Depends on exactly how much money they make during the week.

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HORSLEY: Outside, Steve Clermont is smoking a cigarette, having just knocked off from his roofing job. With winter coming on, he says, lots of people need new roofs. He was excited by Mr. Obama's visit.

STEVE CLERMONT: I think he's doing the best he can. But it's not a one-man job. You know, it's the House of Representatives and stuff like that.

HORSLEY: So far Republicans in the House and the Senate have been cool to most of Mr. Obama's jobs proposals. But the president told supporters at Central High that in the spirit of Thanksgiving, he's planning to give lawmakers another chance.

Scott Horsley, NPR news, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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