WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at Tuesday's White House briefing to send a message directly to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): Quit the politicking and vote on the Senate-passed payroll tax cut. Now.
"I'm calling on the Speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote," Obama said during brief remarks. "This is not poker, this is not a game," he continued. "We have more important things to worry about than saving face, or figuring out internal caucus politics."
The president's comments came just after House Republicans rejected a Senate package that would have extended a soon-to-expire payroll tax cut for another two months, with GOP leaders calling for a year-long extension or no extension at all. Other provisions in the Senate package -- an extension of unemployment insurance benefits and a stopgap measure to prevent automatic cuts to doctors' Medicare payments -- are also on track to expire on Jan. 1 without congressional action.
The White House and Senate Democrats have summarily rejected calls by House Republican leaders to go into conference and make changes to the Senate-passed bill. Instead, their strategy appears to be to put pressure on House GOP leaders to cave, bring up the Senate-passed bill for a straight up-or-down vote, and watch it pass. Tuesday's House vote wasn't a straight up-or-down vote on the Senate bill; instead, it was on a "motion to reject" the bill. A straight vote on the bill could expedite it directly to the president, and Democrats contend it would pass if House Republican leaders would let it come up.
Obama dismissed the House GOP argument that a two-month extension isn't long enough, since Democrats and the White House have said that they, too, agree on the need for a year-long extension. The problem, however, is that the parties can't agree on how to pay for it. The two-month extension is fully paid for and costs $33 billion; a year-long extension would come in at about $200 billion.
Obama called the two-month extension an "insurance policy" so the tax cut doesn't lapse as lawmakers take more time to sort out how to pay for the bigger package. What House Republicans are "really trying to do" by demanding changes to the Senate-passed package is "wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut -- issues where the parties fundamentally disagree," he said.
"Let's not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it; they're tired of it. They expect better," said the president, who abruptly left without taking questions.
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Nine Poison Pills In The GOP Payroll Tax Extension Bill: