President Barack Obama is again urging opposition Republican lawmakers to support an extension of payroll tax cuts for American workers, which is due to expire at the end of the year. Mr. Obama spoke as Senate Democrats unveiled a modified version of the legislation on Capitol Hill.
The president came to the White House briefing room to make his latest appeal to Republicans to support an extension of the tax cut approved by Congress as part of a budget agreement last year.
Last week, a Democratic measure that included a proposal for a surtax on high-earning Americans was voted down, as was a competing Republican measure that would have paid for the payroll tax cut extension with sharp reductions in the federal workforce.
In his remarks, Mr. Obama pointed to recent comments by Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives about the importance of renewing the tax cuts, and urged them to support the extension. "Keep your word to the American people and don't raise taxes on them right now. Now is not the time to slam on the brakes; now is the time to step on the gas. Now is the time to keep growing the economy, to keep creating jobs, to keep giving working Americans the boost that they need," he said.
The president said he is willing to work with Republicans to extend the payroll tax cut "in a responsible way," but he said he refuses to do so in a way that "actually hurts the economy."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid formally announced a scaled-back version of the Democratic bill that failed to pass in the Senate last week.
Reid said that based on last week's vote, he is skeptical that Republicans want to prevent expiration of the tax cuts, which would effect about 160 million Americans. "Republicans need to be prepared to meet us part way. We are offering a serious proposal with meaningful concessions, including spending cuts to which Republicans have already agreed," he said.
Among the concessions, Democrats lowered the surtax on Americans earning more than $1 million a year, a move Reid said was aimed at making the new proposal more palatable to Republicans. The revised measure is expected to cost less, about $180 billion compared with the $265 billion bill voted down last week.
But on the Senate floor, Republican Jon Kyl suggested that ongoing payroll tax cuts are not very helpful to the economy. "It can be argued that this is very bad economic policy. There is no evidence that this temporary tax cut has actually produced any new jobs, which is the whole idea," he said.
President Obama's remarks on Monday echoed a message he has tried to send during recent trips across the country, combining campaigning for next year's general elections with promotion of his economic policies.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says a speech Mr. Obama will deliver on Tuesday in the Midwestern state of Kansas will be an effort to frame the national debate over the economy. "The president's speech will encapsulate the debates that we have been having this year over our economic policy and over our economic future," he said.
In 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt used a Kansas speech to call for more income equality and equal opportunity, and said the federal government had an obligation to play a major role in guaranteeing social justice.
The White House says Mr. Obama will speak about a "make-or-break moment" for the U.S. middle class and all of those working to join it, and emphasize the importance of shared sacrifice in efforts to repair the nation's economy.