POLITICS

Obama pushes payroll tax cut extension

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Republicans were pressing for pay cuts for federal workers and requiring them to contribute more to their pensions.

Obama pushes payroll tax cut extension

They recoiled at a Democratic proposal to raise Transportation Security Administration per-ticket airline security fees.

"Democrats' refusal to agree to any spending cuts in the conference committee has made it necessary for us to prepare this fallback option to protect small business job creators and ensure taxes don't go up on middle-class workers," the GOP leadership statement said. Without action by Congress by the end of the month, payroll taxes will rise for 160 million Americans.

The 2-percentage-point tax cut would deliver a tax cut totaling $2,000 this year for someone making a $100,000 salary.

But Democrats warned that decoupling the payroll tax from the larger legislation could jeopardize efforts to renew the jobless benefits and the fix to the Medicare payment formula.

"It's completely irresponsible to leave behind nearly 5 million unemployed Americans whose benefits will expire and 47 million seniors and disabled Americans whose access to health care would be jeopardized," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., a member of the 20-lawmaker House-Senate negotiating panel.

The GOP move reflects a desire by party leaders to avoid a political hit if the payroll tax expires at the end of the month.

And it would avoid burdening businesses with uncertainties regarding their payroll systems.

On the other hand, jobless benefits lapsed four separate times - including a seven-week interruption - in 2010, and delays in adopting the Medicare fix can be dealt with by delaying the processing of Medicare claims.

The move by the GOP leadership still would leave it to negotiators to come up with $30 billion or $40 billion in deficit savings to extend jobless benefits averaging about $300 a week to people who have been out of work for more than six months.

Republicans have pressed to cut the number of weeks from the maximum 99 permitted under current policies and economic conditions down to as few as 59 weeks.

They also are pressing to require people receiving unemployment to enroll in GED classes and allow states to condition benefits on the passage of drug tests.

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