GOP, Obama Dispute How To Pay For Tax Holiday

Gene Sperling, head of the president's National Economic Council, talks to Steve Inskee about extending the payroll tax cut. The Obama administration is pushing Congress to extend the cut before it expires at the end of the year. Republicans are expected to vote no because it calls for a tax on the wealthy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Presidential economic adviser Gene Sperling has been listening to Scott's report with us. He's on the line.

Mr. Sperling, welcome to the program.

GENE SPERLING: Well, thank you for having us.

INSKEEP: Well, let's just bring people up to date on the debate in Congress. The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said this week that he can now accept the payroll tax holiday being extended. The question is how to finance it so it doesn't increase the deficit. The president wants a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. McConnell is saying he wants other measures, mainly spending cuts. Can you live with McConnell's way here?

SPERLING: Well, it's important to note there's three very important differences between what the Republican minority leader offered and what the Senate will be voting on at the end of this week, and what President Obama is calling for. 'Cause first of all, the president is asking for the payroll tax cuts to not only to be extended, but expanded to up to $1500 for typical families.

Second, the president's act was saying that we should cut payroll taxes in half for every small business. That means cutting taxes for six million small businesses who are employing 56 million people. Unfortunately, the Republican proposal doesn't give a single penny of tax cuts, not one single penny of tax cuts to those small businesses and entrepreneurs that are essential for growth and very much a part of the estimate that this package would lead up to 600,000 or a million more jobs than if it failed.

INSKEEP: And briefly, the third way?

SPERLING: Finally, the president does believe that we should support the Senate vote that would just ask those who make over a million, just 300,000 Americans to pay a little extra. Three hundred thousand Americans paying a little extra so that 160 million working families get an extra $1500 at a time when gas prices, food prices are still high, and when small businesses need the customers, need the lower cost to start hiring and creating jobs in this economy.

INSKEEP: Mr. Sperling, is that tax increase for the wealthiest a deal breaker for the White House? Can you not accept this bill if it's paid for in some other way?

SPERLING: Well, right now we've got a vote on Friday and we are still going to fight right to the last minute to get that passed. Because overwhelmingly, when you step outside of Washington, I think you'll find most Americans - Democrat, Republican, independent - believe that the idea of giving every small business and every worker tax cuts when it could mean 600 to a million jobs in a time when we face a national crisis of long term unemployment, is compelling and economic imperative. And the idea of doing it by just asking 300,000 Americans who make over a million to pay a little extra to make sure that...

INSKEEP: But is that a deal breaker, if it might?

SPERLING: And if the deficit doesn't go up, we think that's going to be a very difficult vote for Republicans to vote against. And so our focus is still 100 percent on passing the Senate proposal put forward by the Senate majority leader Harry Reid, so that's what our focus is. We think that's what the public overwhelmingly supports and that's what's right for the economy.

INSKEEP: Can you accept, if it comes down to it, other ways of financing this, which Democratic Senators have already started saying they're going to negotiate?

SPERLING: Well look, we're happy that at the 11th hour, obviously, they're willing to at least not allow taxes to go up by $1,000. But we certainly believe that what we have put forward is more fair, it's more fiscally disciplined, and it's a richer and more significant tax cuts for small businesses. We hope it will pass.

If it doesn't, obviously, we'll engage in discussions because it's an economic imperative that we extend this tax cut. This is not the time for taxes to be going up on working families, and it certainly isn't the time to be cutting taxes for the small businesses and entrepreneurs we need to power job growth again in this economy.

INSKEEP: Mr. Sperling, we've just got a few seconds left, but you've heard the Republican argument here about the tax increase. They've said that this is a temporary tax cut for a lot of people, versus a permanent tax increase. Are they right in saying that, that you want a temporary help but a permanent tax increase to pay for?

SPERLING: This is a temporary tax cut to help workers and small businesses through this difficult time, but here's where they're wrong. They're saying that asking those over a million to pay a little more over the next several years is punishing job creators...

INSKEEP: But is it permanent?

SPERLING: ...600,000. What they're not doing is giving a single penny to six million small businesses who employ over 56 million workers. So if people care about the job creators, if they care about the small businesses, they want to ask their member, their Senator to vote for the proposal President Obama has. That is what is going to give over six million...

INSKEEP: Sorry, I have to cut you off there, Mr. Sperling. We'll be happy to continue this discussion at another time. Gene Sperling on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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