WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama made phone calls to leaders on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning in an effort to encourage them to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and abandon a push for more negotiations on a full-year deal.
Separate calls were placed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Obama applauded the former for getting a bipartisan compromise through his chamber and encouraged the latter to do the same.
"In his call to Speaker Boehner, the President reiterated the need and his commitment to work with Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year, and the fact that the short-term bipartisan compromise passed by almost the entire Senate is the only option to ensure that middle class families aren't hit with a tax hike in 10 days and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full year solution," read an official statement released by the White House. "The President urged the Speaker to take up the bipartisan compromise passed in the Senate with overwhelming Democratic and Republican support that would prevent 160 million working Americans from being hit with a holiday tax hike on January 1st."
An aide to Speaker Boehner confirmed that he spoke with the president Tuesday afternoon.
"The Speaker reminded the President that the House is the only body that had done what he asked for by providing a full year of payroll tax relief and extended unemployment benefits," the aide emailed. "He urged the President to call on Senator Reid to appoint negotiators so that we can produce a full-year bill by the end of the year that provides a tax cut of $1,000 rather than only $166. The Speaker told the President that his conference was elected to change the way Washington does business and that we should not waste the next ten days simply because it is an inconvenient time of year."
With Republican leadership apparently unmoved by Obama's overture, the question of how the payroll tax debate will be resolved remains up in the air. Certainly, the optics of the situation suggest that the White House is in a more advantageous position. During Tuesday's daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked several times whether Obama would move to help Boehner out of his predicament.
"The president is doing everything he can to help the American people," Carney replied. "The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise, a compromise that received the support of 80 percent of the Republican senators and an even greater percentage of Democratic senators."
Minutes before the administration released its statement commenting on the call made to Boehner, it provided word that the president would be making an unannounced trip outside of the White House's confines. Immediately, there was speculation that the president would be heading to Capitol Hill for a direct confrontation with Republican leadership. That was soon replaced with reports Obama was simply heading out to Virginia to do some holiday shopping. He is scheduled to eventually go to Hawaii to meet up with the rest of his family, though when that will take place depends on a resolution of the payroll tax cut debate.