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The stalemate over the payroll tax cut has become a test of will between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner.
At dueling press events this afternoon each man implored the other to act.
In a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, an angry Obama called the Senate’s two-month payroll tax cut extension “the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1” and pointedly called on Boehner to allow a vote on it.
“If the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days,” Obama said.
Minutes later, Boehner, flanked by dozens of House GOP Members, held a theatrical news conference of his own and didn’t back down.
Asked about the president’s personal appeal to Boehner to help pass a payroll tax cut, the Ohio Republican shot back, “I need the president to help out,” to rowdy cheers from his Members.
“Our House GOP negotiators are here and ready to work with their counterparts from the Senate to resolve their differences as quickly as possible,” he said. “Now it’s up to the president to show real leadership. He said he won’t leave town for the holidays until this bill is done. The next step is clear. I think President Obama needs to call on Senate Democrats to go back into session, move to go to conference and sit down to resolve this bill as quickly as possible.”
Boehner said he sent a letter to the president asking him to do so.
Obama, however, said that while he still wants a full-year extension, an agreement has not yet been reached because the GOP has tried to use the issue to wring concessions from Democrats on unrelated issues.
He also ripped, without naming him, comments from Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) who said the standoff was “high-stakes poker.”
“This is not poker, this is not a game,” said the president, who spoke for about six minutes shortly after returning from a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews marking the end of the war in Iraq.
The president said politicians in Washington, D.C., should look to the example of the nation’s soldiers and not get caught up in internal caucus politics or more brinkmanship. He said the American people are tired of that.
“We owe it to them to come together right now and do the right thing. ... That’s what the Senate did.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was pressed repeatedly by reporters on whether the president agrees with the stand of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has refused to enter negotiations with the House until the chamber agrees to the two-month bill first.
Carney declined to push Reid to return, saying that the way out remains having the House vote on the Senate bill.
“The reason they refused to vote on that bill is because it would have passed,” Carney said.
Carney also suggested that the real problem was that House and Senate Republican leaders couldn’t get their act together among themselves, given that 89 Senators backed the two-month patch.
The president “is not and should not be” a “marriage counselor between House and Senate Republicans,” Carney said.