White House thinks Obama has regained 'upper hand' with GOP on economy

President Obama has regained the “upper hand” on economic issues with voters, according to White House officials, who warned Republicans that running against tax cuts for the middle class is a “very dangerous place to be.”

The officials said the White House will ratchet up pressure on congressional Republicans in November and December to approve before the end of the year an extended and deepened employee payroll tax credit that was a key component of Obama’s jobs package.

Obama will “put an intense focus in the closing weeks” on the payroll tax cut, the officials said. It’s the one element of the president's jobs bill that administration officials are betting heavily Republicans won’t hold up.

One senior administration official said it is “incomprehensible” that Republicans will leave Washington “and on their way out of town wave to the American people and say, ‘We just raised your taxes $1,000.’ 

The official said he expects the debate over taxes going into the winter to be “fairly dramatic.”

While Obama enjoys better approval ratings than congressional Republicans, his poll numbers suggest he has some work to do when it comes to the economy. Only 30 percent of voters in a Gallup poll this week said they approved of Obama’s handling of the economy.

Republicans have blocked Obama’s jobs package and have also opposed pieces of the legislation in votes on the Senate floor.

They agreed to the payroll tax cut last year as part of a deal that extended the Bush-era tax rates. The payroll tax cut is set to expire at the end of the year, but Obama has proposed to extend and deepen it.

The White House officials blasted Republicans for stalling the jobs bill, and for possibly dooming the work of the deficit supercommittee. Democrats and the White House are blaming an impasse in the panel, charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in cuts by Nov. 23, on GOP refusals to consider higher taxes on the rich.

Republicans have argued Obama is rooting for a failure so that he can continue to run against a do-nothing Congress.

Tax cuts for the wealthy are the “only reason” for the supercommittee impasse, a White House official said Thursday. “It's isolated down to that point.”

The officials said it is “absurd” to claim the president wants the process to fail, blaming Republicans for halting progress and compromise at every turn over their “adherence” to the pledge not to raise taxes administered by conservative activist Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform.

“The Republicans have held onto their views as they have seen their approval ratings reach single digits,” the official said.

If the GOP continues to follow Norquist, one official said, “that's not a problem we can solve.”

“That's on them,” the official said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney offered tepid support for a new Republican proposal that offers some revenue to reduce the deficit from tax hikes. He said it was a good sign that “Republicans are actually uttering the R word,” meaning revenues.

White House officials suggested the Occupy Wall Street movement could help their arguments with Republicans in the battle over taxes and the deficit. One official described those protests as a possible “impetus” to growing anger over income and opportunity disparity. This is “the strongest current running through our country and our politics right now,” the official said.

Officials said that the administration will continue to hammer away at Republicans, unveiling more of the “We Can't Wait” initiatives even with Obama out of the country for an extended time to visit Indonesia and Australia.

The announcements will come from Vice President Biden and Cabinet secretaries, one official said.