Obama Accuses GOP of Hypocrisy in Fight to Extend Payroll Tax Cut

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP Photo

With the clock ticking toward the new year deadline to extend the payroll tax cut, President Obama today accused Republicans of hypocrisy for protecting the interests of the wealthy over the needs of the middle class.

"How can you fight tooth and nail to protect high-end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and yet barely lift a finger to prevent taxes going up for 160 million Americans who really need the help? It doesn't make sense," Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room.

Obama made yet another public plea for Congress to extend and expand the payroll tax cut before the holiday recess and said failure to do so would cost middle-class families $1,000 next year.

"My message to Congress is this: Now's not the time to slam on the brakes. Now is the time to step on the gas," he said. "Now's the time to make a real difference in the lives of the people who sent us here. So let's get to work."

While some Republicans in Congress have come out in support of the extension, the parties remain divided over how to pay for it with Republicans opposing Democratic plans to impose a tax surcharge on millionaires.

"There is widespread support for extending the current payroll tax holiday, and everyone - Republicans, Democrats and the president himself - says it should be done in a way that does not increase our deficit. If the president wants to make progress, he should insist that Senate Democrats remove the job-killing small business tax hike from their partisan proposal," a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in response to the president's remarks.

Obama said today he is willing to work with Republicans to pay for the payroll tax cut "in a responsible way," but he is not willing "to pay for the extension in a way that actually hurts the economy."

The president also noted that Republicans previously have not worried about paying for tax cuts. "Over the last decade they didn't feel the need to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which is one of the reasons that we face such large deficits," he said.

Moments after the president's remarks, the White House revealed a clock in the briefing room counting down to the end of the year, saying middle-class taxes will increase "if Congress doesn't act."

In addition to the payroll tax cut, the president also said it would be a "terrible mistake" for lawmakers to head home for the holidays without extending unemployment insurance.

"If that happens, then in January, they'll be leaving 1.3 million Americans out in the cold. To a lot of families, this emergency insurance is the last line of defense between hardship and catastrophe," he said. "We cannot play games with unemployment insurance when we still have an unemployment rate that is way too high."

The president's remarks came as Senate Democrats were readying to unveil a new, significantly scaled-back plan to extend the payroll tax cut. Obama did not comment directly on the new compromise.

The new $180 billion proposal does not include the payroll tax holiday for businesses and employers that was included in the original $265 billion plan that failed in the Senate last week, but would still expand the payroll tax cut for individuals to 3.1 percent from 2 percent.