Obama Calls for Extension of Payroll Tax Break

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 2:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama called on Congress Tuesday to extend and increase a payroll tax cut for American workers that expires next month.

The payroll tax provides money to help fund government pensions for older Americans. It was cut by two percentage points this year, putting about $1,000 more in the pocket of the typical worker as a way to boost consumer consumer spending and energize the country's sluggish economy.

The tax cut is scheduled to end December 31, but Mr. Obama told a high school gathering in New Hampshire that it should be expanded rather than allowed to expire.

A congressional committee tasked with cutting the country's budget deficit considered the payroll tax, but the panel's negotiations collapsed Monday, leaving extension of the tax in limbo. While American lawmakers are often reluctant to approve tax increases, some economists say the payroll tax cut has not done much to boost the economy.

The president said congressional action to expand the tax cut “is about delivering a win for the American people.” He said voters should tell Congress, “Don't be a Grinch, don't vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”

Mr. Obama did not mention the failure of the committee to craft a package of spending cuts and tax increases to trim the government's deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

Chinese state media on Tuesday attacked the U.S. government for failing to resolve what it says is the “ticking debt bomb” in the world's largest economy.

The Xinhua news agency blasted the United States for the collapse of the congressional committee's effort to trim the country's budget deficit. The Chinese agency said “Washington's political elites” need to have the courage to defuse the debt issue and show the “wisdom and determination not to further jeopardize the fragile global economic recovery.”

The news agency said U.S. politicians “have never shied” from lecturing other countries about their global responsibilities, but that “now it is high time” the U.S. “showed a sense of true global leadership.”

The collapse of the congressional committee's negotiations on cutting the U.S. debt had no immediate effect on the U.S. credit rating, since the panel's lack of agreement triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts starting in January 2013, half of it for national security programs. Two credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Moody's, affirmed their rating of U.S. debt. A third agency, Fitch, said it is reviewing its U.S. rating.

Aside from the uncertain fate of the payroll tax cut, the failure of the 12-member committee to reach agreement leaves in question financial assistance for the long-term unemployed that is set expire at the end of this year and will only be extended with congressional approval. At the end of 2012, broader tax cuts first approved a decade ago will expire. All three measures have sparked contentious debate between Mr. Obama, a Democrat facing re-election in 2012, his Democratic supporters in Congress and opposition Republican lawmakers and presidential contenders seeking to oust Mr. Obama.

The congressional panel of six Republicans and six Democrats was supposed to come up with a deal this week, but admitted failure Monday. Later, Mr. Obama vowed to veto any effort to undo the automatic spending cuts.

With a year before the cuts take effect, analysts say Congress and the White House could still reach an agreement on debt cuts and tax increases. But that almost certainly will be more difficult as the country approaches the presidential election a year from now. All 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate also face re-election.

A long-time U.S. government economic official, Alice Rivlin, criticized the lack of an agreement, saying it was a “huge opportunity missed.”