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Obama: Pass the Full Payroll Tax/UI Legislation

Blowing right past the Republican concession on the payroll tax cut, the President demanded passage of all three expiring measures without delay in remarks at the White House today. He only referred to the new GOP concession in passing:

Now, the good news is over the last couple of days, we’ve seen some hopeful signs in Congress that they realize that they’ve got to get this done and you’re starting to hear voices talk about how can we go ahead and make this happen in a timely way on behalf of the American people. That is good news. But as you guys know, you can’t take anything for granted here in Washington until my signature is actually on it.

So we’ve got to keep on making sure that the American people’s voices keep breaking through until this is absolutely, finally, completely done. Until you see me sign this thing, you’ve got to keep on speaking up. Until you see that photograph of me signing it at my desk — (laughter) — make sure it’s verified, certified. If it’s not on the White House website, it hasn’t happened. And I’m going to need to make sure that your voices are heard […]

After all, extending this tax cut and the unemployment insurance is the least of what we should be doing for working Americans. It’s just a start. We need to rebuild an economy where middle-class folks can focus on more than just getting by and folks who want to get in the middle class have those ladders to get into the middle class. We’ve got to rebuild an economy where the middle class thrives and more Americans have a chance to earn their way into it — an economy built to last.

The President did not refer to the “doc fix,” legislation to prevent a 27% cut to Medicare reimbursement rates. But basically, his message in response to news that the GOP would introduce legislation to pass the payroll tax cut without funding was a brief acknowledgment, followed by a demand for the whole package.

To increase pressure on the GOP, the White House has rolled out its #40dollars campaign on social media, highlighting the importance of $40 a week (the approximate savings for an average family) from the payroll tax cut. I’d sure like to see a #99weeks campaign to ensure passage of key unemployment insurance benefits, but I am glad it got mentioned at all in today’s message. Some of the participants in the #40dollars campaign appeared at the White House today.

Some Democrats have recognized the importance of having the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance extension move together.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, one of the Democratic negotiators, said Monday that the payroll tax extension should “travel together” with an extension of unemployment benefits and Medicare payment legislation. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, was more blunt, given that Democratic votes would likely to be needed to pass the bill since some Republicans oppose the payroll tax cut whether it is paid for or not.

“The Republican plan to decouple the payroll tax jeopardizes both the ability of seniors to see their Medicare doctors and benefits for millions of Americans who lost their jobs,” she said. “There is no reason all three of these priorities cannot proceed at the same time as both the House and Senate agreed.”

This is the key fight on the legislation going forward. The Senate may just add their version of the unemployment extension and the doc fix and ping-pong it to the House. But that depends on whether they can find pay-fors that allow them to clear the 60-vote cloture hurdle.

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David Dayen

David Dayen