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Posted at 04:23 PM ET, 11/30/2011

Obama keeps pressure on Congress for extension of payroll tax cut

SCRANTON, Pa. — Pushing the latest provision of his jobs bill in this hardscrabble, blue-collar town, President Obama stepped up his campaign Wednesday to politically damage his Republican rivals by suggesting that their core values do not square with those of ordinary Americans.
President Barack Obama visits with Patrick and Donna Festa, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, in their Scranton, Pa., home. (Carolyn Kaster - AP)

Obama called on a crowd of 1,000 cheering supporters to pressure Congress to support an extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire at year’s end, costing working families $1,000 next year. The Senate, which has supported only one of Obama’s jobs bill measures this fall, could vote on that proposal as early as Friday.

“What’s it gonna be? I hope members of Congress think hard about this. Their actions lately don’t reflect who we are as a people,” Obama said. “What does it say about us that we’re willing to cut taxes for people who don’t need it and raise taxes on folks who do need a tax break? . . . America is better than that.”

Obama warned that if Congress doesn’t pass the extension, “it would be tough for you. It would also be a massive blow for the economy because we’re not fully out of the recession yet.”

As he has done throughout his jobs tour, Obama sought to cast the GOP as standing in the way of populist proposals that could help stimulate the economy and put Americans back to work. But in this case, Republican leaders have signaled a willingness to support the payroll tax cut; where they differ from the president is on how to pay for it.

Obama is proposing to extend and expand the tax cut, saving families an average of $1,500 next year, and he would pay for it by eliminating some itemized deductions for Americans who earn $250,000 or more. Senate Democrats revised the plan to instead pay for it by imposing a 5.6 percent surtax on incomes of $1 million or more.

But Republicans have balked at tax increases, and GOP Senate leaders have privately discussed alternative ideas, including potentially extending a freeze on federal salaries.

“Republicans will put aside their misgivings and support this [payroll tax cut] extension, not because we believe, as the president does, that another short-term stimulus will turn this economy around,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) said in a speech Wednesday morning, “but because we know it will give some relief to struggling workers out there who continue to need it nearly three years into this presidency.”

Obama hammered his rivals for refusing to consider tax hikes on the wealthy, playing repeatedly to Scranton’s working-class roots.

Speaking in a gymnasium with maroon and gold Scranton championship banners on the walls, Obama told the crowd that some Republicans have “taken an oath to never raise taxes as long as they live.”

“Give us some names!” a man responded, drawing laughs and cheers.

Obama smiled. He did not name names, but said that although the Senate blocked his $447 billion American Jobs Act, he is “filled with the Christmas spirit” and is willing to “give them another chance to redeem themselves” during Friday’s vote on the payroll tax cut provision.

“If they vote no, the typical family’s taxes go up by $1,000 next year,” he said. “If they vote yes, the typical family gets an extra $1,500 in their pocket next year. Which way do you think Congress should vote? They should vote yes; it’s pretty simple.”

It was Obama’s second speech on the payroll tax cut in as many weeks in a critical electoral swing state, after he delivered similar remarks in Manchester, N.H., last week. In Scranton, he invoked the biography of a native son, Vice President Biden, who remains popular here.

“Send your senators a message,” Obama implored his audience. “Tell them, Don’t be a Grinch. Don’t vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”

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