President Obama blasted House Republicans today for failing to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, accusing a "faction" of the GOP of playing politics and forcing a tax hike on 160 million Americans.
"Let's be clear: Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1. It's the only one," Obama said in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.
The president's comments came shortly after the House rejected the bipartisan Senate-passed bill to extend the payroll tax holiday for two months, giving lawmakers time to reach an agreement on a one-year deal. Republicans are now demanding a formal conference to negotiate a year-long extension, but Democratic leaders, insisting on the Senate bill, have vowed not to restart negotiations.
"Just about everybody - Democrats and Republicans - are committed to making sure that early next year we find a way to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance through the end of 2012. But now, even though Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were willing to compromise for the good of the country, a faction of Republicans in the House are refusing to even vote on the Senate bill - a bill that cuts taxes for 160 million American," Obama said.
While Obama did not address Speaker John Boehner's call for the Senate to return to Washington, he opposed Boehner's demand for additional negotiations. "I'm calling on the speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote. Give the American people the assurance they need in this holiday season," he said.
The president accused Republicans of focusing on "extraneous issues" and holding up the payroll tax cut to "wring concessions" from Democrats on "issues where the parties fundamentally disagree.
"The clock is ticking; time is running out," Obama said as he stood in front of the White House clock counting down the 11 days until the tax cut expires. "This is not a game - this shouldn't be politics as usual."
The president urged Republicans to put politics aside. "Put aside issues where there are fundamental disagreements, and come together on something we agree on. … Let's not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it; they're tired of it. They expect better," he said.