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Obama Urges Lawmakers to End Tax Standoff

  • Kent Klein

President Barack Obama speaks during the news briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington.

President Barack Obama speaks during the news briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington.

President Barack Obama is urging leaders in Congress to end their latest partisan deadlock. The president Wednesday called on the top lawmakers to agree on preventing a tax increase which is due to take effect January 1.

The latest stalemate between Republicans and Democrats concerns how much longer to extend a temporary tax cut for 160 million Americans.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted last week to prolong the break on payroll taxes by two months, to give lawmakers time to work out details of a one-year extension later.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, however, want a one-year extension, and on Tuesday voted not to consider the Senate's bill.

President Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday and urged him to reverse the Republicans’ stand.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the issue was settled in the Senate, and the impasse threatens the nation’s economic recovery. “The uncertainty we have to eliminate is the uncertainty that Americans have right now about whether or not their taxes are going to go up on January 1st. There is a bipartisan compromise available to make sure that does not happen. Just take it. Just take it," he said.

Carney said the president told Boehner the short-term extension is the only option for preventing the tax increase.

The speaker told Mr. Obama a full-year extension can be approved before the deadline, and that Senators should return from vacation to work with the House to do so.

The president also called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The latest legislative battle has, at least temporarily, hurt Republicans politically and helped the president.

Mr. Obama’s public opinion ratings, which had been sagging for months, have rebounded somewhat, and the approval ratings for Congress have reached historic lows.

Even some top conservative voices, including The Wall Street Journal newspaper, have urged House Republicans to agree to the two-month extension.

The Obama administration and the president’s re-election campaign have been working to capitalize on the situation, soliciting comments from supporters on the social media websites Facebook and Twitter.

Spokesman Carney says the president has public opinion on his side. “The voices are growing louder, from average Americans, from Republicans in Congress, in the Senate, even in the House now, from respected commentators within the conservative arena. The House needs to act. They are not behaving in the interests of the country," he said.

The disputed legislation has three key elements: a cut in the payroll tax, which workers pay into the Social Security retirement fund; an extension of unemployment payments to jobless workers; and a delay to cuts in payments for health care for the elderly.

This dispute is the latest in a series of standoffs between Democrats and Republicans, raising questions about Washington’s ability to get things done.

Legislation to raise the U.S. government’s debt limit, which usually passes almost automatically, caused a battle earlier this year. That stalemate led at least one credit agency to downgrade its rating of U.S. debt for the first time.

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