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Many in the GOP say the deficit is so severe that tax increases or spending cuts should be used to lower the government’s record-high borrowing.

But Mr. Obama said they didn’t always feel that way.

“Over the last decade, they didn’t feel the need to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which is one of the reasons that we face such large deficits,” he said. “Indeed, when the Republicans took over the House at the beginning of this year, they explicitly changed the rules to say that tax cuts don’t have to be paid for. So forgive me a little bit of confusion when I hear folks insisting on tax cuts being paid for.”

From there, Mr. Obama moved on to another part of his $447 billion stimulus plan - the extension of unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million Americans. An extension of the benefits through 2012 would cost an estimated $44 billion, on top of about $430 billion in benefits that the jobless have collected in the past four years.

Mr. Obama said Congress must act before adjourning for the holidays, or “they’ll be leaving 1.3 million Americans out in the cold.”

“It would be a terrible mistake for Congress to go home for the holidays without extending unemployment insurance,” Mr. Obama said. “To a lot of families, this emergency insurance is the last line of defense between hardship and catastrophe.”

After concluding his brief comments, Mr. Obama stepped away from the podium as flat video screens behind him beamed a clock countdown with the message, “If Congress doesn’t act, middle class taxes increase in” and a countdown clock that started at “26 days, 9 hours, 38 minutes.”

Mr. Boehner and House Republican leaders are working on their own payroll-tax proposal, but they, too, are having trouble corralling members of their own party.

One House Republican, Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry of Louisiana, last week proposed giving taxpayers a choice: Take the tax holiday today and delay the date of eligibility for Social Security by a month, or keep your current Social Security eligibility age and forgo the tax cut.