A new presence greeted reporters at today’s White House briefing: an electronic billboard displaying a clock counting down the days until the payroll tax expires. It explicitly shows what lawmakers already know: the payroll tax expires in just 22 days.
So it stands to reason that White House Spokesman Jay Carney would begin today’s briefing by keeping the administration on message about its admonishment that Congress vote to extend the payroll tax cut, which could help working- and middle-class taxpayers keep an appreciable chunk of their earnings and stimulate the economy.
“Republicans say extending the payroll tax and raising taxes on the rich will hurt job creators and small businesses,” said Carney.
He contends that less than one percent of all small businesses would be affected by the tax and contends, “So when reporters repeat that Republicans say it will hurt small businesses, make sure you add one more sentence — that the idea is bogus.”
One House GOP payroll extension plan includes a number of cuts and a provision to create the Keystone XL oil pipeline which the White House opposes. Carney said, “With only 22 days before these tax cuts expire, Republicans are still playing politics. Their proposal makes harmful cuts to things like education and puts the burden on working families while protecting the interests of the wealthy.”
As politicians jockey for political points, the American people seems to be caught in the middle of this tug of war. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, told reporters, “Frankly, the fact that the president doesn’t like it makes me like it even more.”
Carney fired back, “This should not be about scoring points against the president. It’s time for Congress to do its job. No wonder people give Congress a 10 percent approval rating.”
But President Obama has stopped just short of using the word “veto” against a payroll extension plan that includes the Keystone pipeline or continues the Bush-era tax cuts, raising question about whether he’s opening the door to caving in to the opposition. To that, Carney said, “Reject means reject. There’s not a viable bill over which to issue a veto threat.”
As Americans spend the holidays amid a continuing economic crisis, chances are that Congress will come to some sort of consensus on the payroll tax in the coming weeks. Until then, the electronic billboard continues to count down, giving Congress and the White House 22 more days to go head to head.
On the president’s agenda next week: A meeting with the Iraqi prime minister about that country’s future, and trip with the first lady to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to talk to troops returning home from Iraq.
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(Photo: El KEBIR LAMRANI/AFP/Getty Images)