- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

The White House Friday blasted House Republicans for “playing politics” with a new proposal that ties an extension of payroll tax cuts to the approval of a massive new oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

“With only 22 days left before taxes go up an average of $1,000 for 160 million hard-working Americans, Republican leaders in Congress are still playing politics at the expense of middle-class families,” said presidential spokesman Jay Carney.

He criticized GOP leaders for “choosing to refight old political battles” rather than find a compromise with Democrats.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, introduced legislation Friday that would extend the payroll tax cut beyond Jan. 1 while adding language to speed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would create up to 20,000 jobs. President Obama said earlier this week he would reject a tax-cut bill that includes the pipeline project.

The State Department has postponed a decision on the pipeline until late next year, fueling criticism that the Obama administration is ducking the issue to appease environmentalists who are important to the president’s re-election. The Keystone project is perilous politically for Mr. Obama because several labor unions have strongly backed the pipeline because of the jobs it will create.

The GOP proposal would pay for a one-year extension of tax cuts by cutting government spending, such as a pay freeze for federal employees, and by raising Medicare premiums for high-income seniors. Senate Democrats want to cover the cost of the payroll tax cuts by imposing a new tax surcharge on people with incomes above $1 million.

Mr. Carney said the House Republican proposal “breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that we reached just a few months ago.”

“Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies,” he said.

Mr. Boehner’s office issued a chart Friday that showed about 90 percent of the savings in the GOP bill are ideas that Mr. Obama has proposed, “or are close variations.”

The legislation would add $25.3 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Obama gave a two-word non-answer to reporters who asked his opinion of the new GOP payroll tax-cut bill: “Merry Christmas.”

Mr. Obama was walking at midday from the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue to a Christmas party at Blair House when pool reporters shouted out the question. The party was for staff of the White House National Security Council.

As the two sides appear no closer to compromise, Mr. Obama has said he would delay or cancel his 17-day Christmas vacation in Hawaii to stay in Washington while Congress works on a deal.

He is also insisting on an extension of unemployment benefits. The GOP proposal includes an extension of unemployment benefits but less than the 99 weeks sought by the White House.