This time, President Obama came prepared not just with a slogan, but with a prop.
In the latest bid to get Congress to approve a provision in the president’s jobs bill, the White House unveiled a digital countdown clock marking the amount of time left until a payroll tax holiday expires at year’s end — costing 160 million Americans $1,000 next year.
The clock flashed up Monday on the two flatscreens in the White House briefing room just after Obama wrapped up his brief remarks: roughly 26 days, 9 hours, 40 minutes, 20 seconds and counting.
The final sentences of Obama’s statement played off the “time” theme.
“My message to Congress is this,” Obama said. “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. Now is the time to make a real difference in the lives of the people who sent us here.”
Obama has been hammering Congress to approve provisions from his jobs bill using such slogans as “We can’t wait.” On the payroll tax, Obama has positioned himself as a champion of the middle class, while arguing that the GOP favors tax cuts only for the wealthy.
Obama’s proposal would expand the payroll tax holiday to give families a total break of $1,500 and provide a tax break to small businesses. Republican leaders have shown willingness to support extending the tax cut for families, but they have rejected a proposal from Senate Democrats to pay for it through a surtax on incomes of $1 million or more.
Democrats unveiled a scaled-back proposal Monday that included a smaller millionaires surtax.
The clock — which reads “If Congress doesn’t act, middle class taxes increase in:” and shows the countdown — is intended to pressure Congress on the urgency of taking action on the payroll tax cut and another proposal from Obama to extend long-term unemployment benefits.
Reporters couldn’t help but wonder why the White House was suddenly embracing the countdown clock gimmick. After all, administration aides had scolded news organizations from running similar clocks on their Web sites last summer during the debt showdown marking the time until the country would default on its debt.
The debt clock “could have had a negative impact, raising the specter we hoped would never be raised, of the U.S. defaulting on its own obligations, with the potential effect of global economic chaos,” White Press Secretary Jay Carney explained, as the tax clock ticked down to 26 days, 9 hours, 7 minutes and 5 seconds. “This is quite different.”