Obama Urges Boehner To Pass Payroll Tax Extension

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President Obama called House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday, urging him again to pass the bipartisan Senate bill allowing for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment insurance. That the idea appears stalled in Republican-controlled House. As the Dec. 31 deadline for action nears, the White House, families and businesses are looking at the real-world consequences of congressional inaction.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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The political standoff continued today over a payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits. President Obama telephoned House Speaker John Boehner and urged him to get House Republicans to reconsider a two-month extension of both. So far, Boehner has refused. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, that means more uncertainty and the prospect that working Americans will see their taxes go up on January 1st.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Pressure is mounting on House Republicans to change course and approve the temporary payroll tax cut agreed to by the Senate last week. That pressure is not just coming from the White House or from Democrats. The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page chimed in today, saying House Republicans had badly mishandled the issue and should now cut their losses and OK the Senate deal. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said that's part of a growing Republican chorus.

JAY CARNEY: It's pretty clear that the ball is in the House's court. There is a compromise available, an avenue out of this blind alley, if you will, that they've driven themselves into, and it is the Senate bill.

HORSLEY: The Obama administration is doing its best to keep the pressure on. The White House website asked Americans what the tax cut, averaging $40 per paycheck, means to them. Carney read aloud from some of the thousands of answers that poured in.

CARNEY: Someone contacting us from Connecticut says I can buy lunch from cafeteria for almost a whole month for my twins. I can buy food or pay for gas. I can save it for my daughter's prescriptions. To some people, $40 is nothing. But $40 is big money for us. In West Virginia, that 40 bucks is my gas for my car to get to work. Taking 40 away from my pay would just about put me under.

HORSLEY: The legislative logjam creates not only a pocketbook concern for workers who may see less money in their paychecks, Michael O'Toole of the American Payroll Association says it also creates an administrative hassle to the people who issue those check.

MICHAEL O'TOOLE: It is a headache. I think they're very frustrated in not knowing what they're supposed to do. Their natural orientation as payroll professionals is to pay their employees timely and correctly. And what's going on in Washington is going to make that hard to do.

HORSLEY: The standoff has forced President Obama to put off joining his family in Hawaii for Christmas. He did sneak out of the White House this afternoon for some holiday shopping at a Virginia electronic store. He bought a dance video game to play with his daughters.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And you guys will never get a picture of me doing it because I get graded F every time.

HORSLEY: The president also bought a toy bone for Bo, the first family's dog. Mr. Obama seemed upbeat as he wished his fellow shoppers a merry Christmas. Political analyst Jack Pitney of Claremont-McKenna College says Mr. Obama has already gotten his own present courtesy of the House Republicans.

JACK PITNEY: Right at the holiday season, the Republicans have painted themselves into the picture of the grinch. From a political standpoint, this episode greatly benefits the Democrats and really hurts the Republicans.

HORSLEY: Recent polls show Mr. Obama's approval ratings on the upswing, especially when it comes to protecting the middle class. Pitney says, for Boehner, the challenge now is to how to reverse course and approve the two-month extension to tax cut without losing support from the most conservative Republican House members.

PITNEY: The irony is that we now have Newt Gingrich running for president, and Newt Gingrich, towards the end of his speakership had a similar problem. He complained about the perfectionist caucus within his ranks opposing budget agreement he reached with President Clinton. Speaker Boehner is also dealing with a perfectionist caucus of his own.

HORSLEY: White House Spokesman Carney was asked today if there's any way for Mr. Obama to help Boehner in that effort. Carney said the president has a lot of responsibilities, but protecting the Republican House speaker from his own party is not one of them.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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