WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama wants voters to get involved in the debate over extending the payroll tax holiday, and he's asking them to tell members of Congress to keep the tax cut in place.
"Let your members of Congress know where you stand," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. "Tell them not to vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays. Tell them to put country before party. Put money back in the pockets of working Americans. Pass these tax cuts."
Obama's address directs listeners to the whitehouse.gov website, where an online calculator lets them determine how much money it's worth to them to continue the 2 percent reduction in the payroll tax that took effect this year. A family with income of $50,000 a year would pay $1,000 more in payroll taxes if Congress does not act by the end of this year to extend that reduction.
Democrats want to expand the reduction in addition to extending it. Republican leaders say they're committed to passing an extension, fearing political fallout if payroll taxes rise on Jan. 1 on 160 million wage-earners, but the GOP rank-and-file appears divided, with many Republican senators voting against an extension supported by their leadership this week.
There's also disagreement about how -- or whether -- to pay for any extension, with Democrats favoring a new tax on millionaires and Republicans preferring to cut federal spending.
"We're going to keep pushing Congress to make this happen. They shouldn't go home for the holidays until they get this done," Obama said Saturday. "And if you agree with me, I could use your help."
Obama also took note of a new monthly jobs report out Friday that showed the economy added 120,000 jobs in November, a positive number. "We need to keep this growth going and strengthen it," the president said.
Republicans devoted their weekly address to promoting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which is headed for a vote in the Senate after failing in the House last month.
Democratic leaders worked aggressively to defeat the measure in the House, saying that such a requirement could force Congress to cut billions from social programs during times of economic downturn and that disputes over what to cut could result in Congress ceding its power of the purse to the courts. The result was that the amendment got majority support but fell short of the two-thirds needed to advance a constitutional amendment.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, argued Saturday that "the impending vote to amend the Constitution represents a choice between changing business as usual in Washington or embracing the status quo that we can no longer afford."
"The real reason many lawmakers don't want a balanced budget amendment is the exact reason why it's so essential," Snowe said. "They don't want their hands tied; they want to continue to spend without restraint."
Like Obama, she asked listeners to make their views known.
"Contact your senators and urge them to support our balanced budget amendment," Snowe said, "so that we finally seize the fiscal reins and reclaim our future for our children and our grandchildren."