President Obama is not quite ready to take “yes” for an answer. At least not from House Republicans he believes have walked away from previous deals. And not when he thinks the yes is conditional and only addresses part of what he wants. So the day after the House Republican leadership signaled they will go along with extension of the payroll-tax cut that is at the top of the president’s economic agenda, Obama responded with immense caution.
Flanked by ordinary working Americans at an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the president appealed to all Americans to keep up the pressure on Congress, crediting that pressure with moving the tax-cut extension to the edge of victory. But perhaps no recent event better dramatized the lack of trust between the White House and the GOP-controlled House.
On Monday, a statement was issued by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in which they agreed to extend the tax cut without further spending cuts to pay for it, dropping their long-held demand. But the president only briefly acknowledged the breakthrough, calling it “good news” and one of what he called “hopeful signs in Congress that they realize they have to get this done.”
But, Obama added in the tone of a man who feels he has been burned in other times of hope, “you can’t take anything for granted here in Washington.” He warned against lessening the pressure on Congress “until my signature is actually on it” and urged his supporters to “call, tweet, write your congressmen, write your senators, tell them, do not let up until this thing gets done. Don't let taxes go up on 160 million working Americans.”
Warning of slippage in Congress, the president said, “We have to keep on making sure that the American people's voices keep breaking through until this is absolutely, finally, completely done. Until you see 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.”
He offered an echo of the old Cold War days of arms-control talks when President Reagan famously said his policy toward the Soviets was “trust but verify.” To laughter, Obama said, “Make sure it is verified, certified. If it is not on the White House website, it hasn't happened.”
A spokesman for Boehner said that Republicans have “demonstrated yet again that we have no desire to see taxes go up on anyone,” adding, “If there’s any holdup now, it will be because Democrats aren’t yet done playing politics.”
But Obama likened the current situation to the flight of a jet. “When a plane is finally lifted off the ground, you don't ease up on the throttle. You keep the throttle on full. You keep going,” he said. “Our plane is up there, but we are not at cruising altitude yet.”
The president pointedly called for Congress to extend federal emergency unemployment-insurance benefits, something not covered in Monday's GOP agreement. Republicans are resisting a 79-week extension, holding out for only 59 weeks, and have demanded that the president push Senate Democrats to compromise on the matter. But, in his statement, Obama applied the pressure on Republicans, calling it one of the “vital insurance lifelines for folks who have lost their jobs during this recession.”
Obama added, “They need to do it now, without drama and without delay. No ideological sideshows to gum up the works, no self-inflicted wounds. Just pass this middle-class tax cut, pass the extension of unemployment-insurance policy. Do it before it's too late, and I will sign it right away.”