As the White House looks for a political advantage on the payroll tax issue, lawmakers in both parties are conflicted about an extension of the break, which could add as much as $250 billion to budget deficits and undermine Social Security’s financing stream.
Addressing an enthusiastic crowd in a high school gymnasium here, the president mocked the GOP’s “party of tax cuts” label.
“A lot of them have sworn an oath — ‘We’re never going to raise taxes on anybody for as long as we live,’ ” he said, a reference to the anti-tax pledge designed by GOP activist Grover Norquist and signed by many Republicans. “But the question they’ll have to answer when they get back from Thanksgiving is this: Are they really willing to break their oath to never raise taxes, and raise taxes on the middle class just to play politics?”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that Republicans told Obama long ago that “they stand ready to have an honest and fruitful discussion with him regarding the payroll tax extension, and that invitation stands.” Meanwhile, he called on the president in a written statement to “dislodge” a variety of jobs bills that have passed the House but are now “stuck in the Democratic-controlled Senate.”
Obama’s sharp tone underscored how any hope for a bipartisan deal to reduce the national debt has fizzled into campaign politics. The issue could help Obama shield himself from Republicans’ charges that, in his quest to roll back the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, he would impose a historic tax increase on many Americans.
He was greeted here Tuesday by a scathing attack from Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who aired a new 60-second ad that uses images from Obama’s 2008 campaign to accuse him of failed economic leadership.
The president’s reelection campaign described the ad as deceitful because it included a clip of Obama saying at a 2008 event, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The ad does not disclose that Obama was mocking a comment by an aide to his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Nevertheless, it serves as a preview of the GOP’s general-election playbook against a president seen as weak on the economy.
The political stakes soared this week after leaders of the supercommittee announced that they were unable to agree on a debt-reduction plan, setting the stage for a potentially nasty year-end battle over the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits. The panel had been negotiating over whether to extend those measures as part of a deal, and now their fate is unclear.