- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2012

Seizing on news of another drop in the unemployment rate, President Obama Friday urged Congress to extend a payroll tax holiday for workers and spur the economic recovery even as he called for more than $5 billion in new spending.

“I want to send send a clear message to Congress: Do not slow down the recovery that we’re on,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t muck it up. Keep it moving in the right direction.”

The president traveled across the Potomac to Fire Station #5 in Arlington, Va. to promote a plan to hire more veterans as first-responders. His remarks came on the same morning that the government reported the national unemployment rate had dropped to 8.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent in December.

“Altogether, we’ve added 3.7 million new jobs over the last 23 months,” Mr. Obama said. “The economy is growing stronger. The recovery is speeding up. And we’ve got to do everything in our power to keep it going. We can’t let Washington stand in the way of our recovery.”

He said the most important action Congress can take is to extend the payroll tax cut for 160 million workers through the end of this year. After a bitter partisan battle, lawmakers late last year agreed to extend the tax cut until the end of February, but are still struggling with the question of whether and how to pay for the cuts through the end of 2012.

At the time, Republicans in Congress also succeeded in adding to the tax-cut measure a provision that required Mr. Obama to make a decision within 60 days on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas. Mr. Obama, under heavy pressure from environmentalists to reject the pipeline, rejected the application last month, saying Congress hadn’t given the administration enough time to consider the proposal.

Mr. Obama said Congress now must pass an extension of the payroll tax cut “without drama, without delay, without linking it to some ideological side issues. They just need to get it done.”

“Now is not the time for self-inflicted wounds to our economy,” he said. “Now is the time for action.”

The president also filled in some details of his veterans jobs corps program, which he unveiled at his State of the Union address last month. He said communities that hire more veterans as first-responders will receive priority treatment for $486 million in federal grants.

The administration also announced it will include a budget request of $4 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, first proposed in his jobs bill last year, to hire more police officers, with preference given to veterans.

Mr. Obama also is proposing $1 billion to hire up to 20,000 veterans to refurbish national parks.

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