By JULIE PACE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Relishing a political victory, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Congress "did the right thing" by extending payroll tax cuts for millions of Americans. He urged lawmakers to push forward on more measures, from assistance to struggling homeowners to increased taxes on the wealthy, saying the looming election was no excuse for inaction in Washington.
"Don't stop here. Keep going,'" Obama said during a White House event marking the passage of the tax cuts.
"Keep taking the action that people are calling for to keep this economy growing. This may be an election year, but the American people have no patience for gridlock," he said.
Obama was celebrating a tax cut that is already in place, but due to expire at month's end. He said the extension of the tax cut for the rest of the year will have a spillover effect: More people will spend money and more businesses in turn will be prodded to hire workers, and so "the entire economy" gets a boost.
Congress overwhelmingly passed the $143 billion measure on Friday. The bill extends both a 2 percentage point reduction in the tax that funds Social Security and extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. The measure also averts a big cut in the reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.
But Tuesday's event was not a bill-signing because the bill is not yet in Obama's hands. Not knowing when the legislation will come down from Capitol Hill, the White House decided to go ahead and hold its event now, while the victory is still fresh in people's minds. No major event is planned for the actual bill-signing.
The payroll tax cut was a centerpiece of the jobs plan Obama unveiled last year — and of a re-election strategy that seeks to cast his GOP foes as protectors of the rich out of touch with the worries of working families.
Obama never mentioned that a real driver of the deal Congress approved Friday was the political fallout on Republicans if they didn't give ground. Having endured a debacle in December, when they were seen as holding up the tax cut before caving, Republicans this time went along, and without demanding that the cost be paid for, either.
The White House said the average family would have lost $40 per paycheck had the tax cut not been extended. Throughout the payroll tax debate, the White House encouraged people to write in on social networking sites about how losing that money would affect their lives.
Several members of the public who submitted their thoughts were invited to join Obama at events promoting the tax cuts, including his remarks Tuesday.
"This got done because of you," Obama said. "Because you called, you emailed, you tweeted your representatives and you demanded action. You made it clear that you wanted to see some common sense in Washington."
White House officials have called the payroll tax cut the last "must-do" legislation Obama has to work with Congress on ahead of the November presidential election. Still, Obama made a push Tuesday for several other priorities outlined in his jobs bill and last month's State of the Union address, including legislation to assist small business owners and struggling homeowners.
Obama earlier this month proposed a vast expansion of government assistance to homeowners that would make lower lending rates a possibility for millions of borrowers who have not been able to get out from under burdensome mortgages. The proposal has special resonance in election battlegrounds such as Nevada and Florida that have faced record foreclosures.
Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for more borrowers to refinance their loans, creating a new program through the Federal Housing Administration that would have the government assume the risk for the new mortgages. The proposal faces a difficult path in Congress.
Obama also said he wants Congress to pass the so-called Buffett rule, which seeks to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year pay at least 30 percent of their incomes in taxes.
Associated Press writers Ben Feller and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
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