President Obama said today that he agrees with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over how Congress can extend a payroll tax cut.
Shortly before Obama spoke, McConnell, whom the president didn't mention by name, urged House Republicans to pass a temporary extension of the tax cut as the Senate has done, before negotiating for a one-year extension. House Speaker John Boehner has held his position that the parties must talk about the full year extension before anything is passed.
"Democrats agree with the Republican leader of the Senate," Obama told an auditorium full of supporters near the White House. "We should go ahead and get this done. This should not be hard. We all agree it should happen. I believe it will happen sooner rather than later."
Obama was the latest person in the tax cut debate to speak today. Before he took the stage, Boehner and his allies in the House called a news conference to urge Obama to negotiate with them. "We need somebody to work with," he said.
Boehner also called Obama in the morning to ask that the White House send negotiators to Congress, but Obama declined to do so.
The White House says that if the tax cut isn't passed by the end of the year, the average family will lose $40 per weekly paycheck. To personalize the argument, Obama spoke in the auditorium in front of people whom he said told the White House how much that loss would hurt them.
Obama rattled off the mini stories: a man from New Jersey who wants to have pizza night with his 16-year-old twin girls, a man from Rhode Island who uses heating oil to keep his house warm, a man from Wisconsin who drives 200 miles each week to visit his father-in-law in a nursing home, and a teacher in Washington, D.C., who would have to cut back on science and art supplies for her students.
The people in the room applauded only once during Obama's brief speech, when he argued that "an overwhelming number of people in both parties" agree that the tax cut should be extended.
"I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things, we can't do it?" Obama asked, perhaps rhetorically. "It doesn't make any sense."
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, sent this statement to reporters after Obama's speech: "The forty dollars the president spoke about are important. That's why the House is seeking to provide that tax relief for a full year, rather than only two months. It's disappointing the president says he agrees with the House's desire for a full-year extension, but has still declined to negotiate with Republicans to make it a reality."
White House press secretary Jay Carney had been scheduled to brief reporters after Obama's speech, but the briefing was canceled without explanation.