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Obama turns anti-tax message on GOP

The president says Republicans are playing politics by voting down his jobs plan, which includes an extension of the payroll tax break. He tells a crowd in New Hampshire that the move could cost the average middle-class family $1,000 in 2012.

November 23, 2011|By Christi Parsons, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama greets people in the crowd at a high school in Manchester, N.H., after speaking about his jobs plan and extending the payroll tax cut.
President Obama greets people in the crowd at a high school in Manchester,… (Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — President Obama visited New Hampshire to highlight the next big fight in Washington, as he urged Congress to not "be a Grinch" by allowing tax cuts to expire after the holidays, costing the average middle-class family $1,000 in 2012.

In a less-than-jolly assessment of Republican motives, Obama said Tuesday that the GOP's votes against his jobs plan this fall were essentially votes to raise taxes, because one provision of the plan would have preserved the tax breaks.

"The question they'll have to answer when they get back from Thanksgiving is this," Obama said. "Are they really willing to break their oath to never raise taxes, and raise taxes on the middle class, just to play politics?"

The critique represented the start of a new campaign, begun a day after a bipartisan congressional "super committee" announced it could not agree on a 10-year plan to reduce federal deficits and called it quits a few days before its Thanksgiving deadline.

With Republicans asserting that Obama failed to lead during the super committee's tenure, the president watched lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays, then flew to New England to speak at a high school in Manchester, N.H.

Obama's comments were briefly interrupted by a group of protesters who began chanting as he started to speak, beginning with the words "Mic check!" — a phrase popular in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Obama supporters quickly drowned out the outburst.

Republicans also were ready for Obama in New Hampshire, where GOP presidential hopefuls are engaged in a furious race to the party's January primary. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney timed the debut of a television ad targeting Obama's record on the economy to air the night before the president's visit.

The ad kicked up a controversy before Obama hit town. It includes footage of Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign race against Sen. John McCain saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

But while it was Obama speaking, he was quoting a McCain campaign aide, which the ad did not make clear. The full Obama comment was, "Sen. McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.' "

"Seriously?" asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. "It's a rather remarkable way to start. And an unfortunate way to start."

But as Republicans see it, Obama engaged in his own misrepresentation when he told the crowd in New Hampshire that Republicans voted against extending the payroll tax cuts. They voted against his much larger $447-billion American Jobs Act, which included a provision to extend the tax cuts. The GOP objects to Obama's call to increase taxes on the wealthy to help reduce deficits.

Republicans and Democrats don't have much of a track record of collaboration over the last few months, and that could spell the end of the tax cuts. Republicans have raised concerns about the cost of extending the break — it could top $250 billion when combined with similar extensions on the table — but they have not ruled it out.

Approved in late 2010 as part of a deal to extend President George W. Bush's income tax reductions for high earners, the payroll tax holiday reduces the amount of money that workers have taken out of their paychecks. The Bush income tax cuts continue through the end of 2012, but the payroll tax break expires at the end of 2011 and would bring an immediate tax increase.

"A lot of them have sworn an oath, 'We're never going to raise taxes on anybody for as long as we live,' " Obama said Tuesday, "even though they have already voted against these middle-class tax cuts once."

But "in the spirit of Thanksgiving," Obama said, "we are going to give them another chance. Next week, they're going to get to take a simple vote."

Senate Democrats haven't quite settled on how simple the vote will be or when it will take place. But it could come shortly after the Thanksgiving break.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that he was ready to have an "honest and fruitful discussion" about the payroll tax extension.

"Meanwhile, the American people continue to await action on the more than 20 bipartisan jobs bills passed by the House that are currently stuck in the Democratic-controlled Senate," Boehner said. "I hope the president will put country before party and call on the Senate to bring these bipartisan jobs bills to a vote immediately after Thanksgiving."

christi.parsons@latimes.com

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