GOP presidential field in DC as Obama touts jobs plan in Granite State

President Obama will head to New Hampshire to lobby for a payroll tax cut extension Tuesday — the same day his GOP rivals will be in Washington and less than 24 hours after the supercommittee announced its failure to reach a deal.

The White House brushed off suggestions the president’s trip to the Granite State, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary in seven weeks, was being made with an eye toward 2012.

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“He travels all over the country, to different parts of the country, to speak about his ideas for getting this economy growing again,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters Monday.

But Republicans said the president was being nothing but political.

Mitt Romney, whom the president’s campaign has targeted in recent weeks, will greet the president’s visit with an attack ad. Romney, a front-runner for the GOP nomination, will begin airing the ad in New Hampshire on Tuesday. It looks to contrast what Obama said as a candidate with his policies as president.

On his trip, the president will lobby specifically for an extension of the payroll tax cut, as the future of the tax break and other expiring policies remain up in the air with the failure of the supercommittee.

He’s also likely to continue slamming the GOP for obstructing his broader, $447 billion jobs package — and will do so in a state where Romney is running strong in the polls.

New Hampshire will be an important swing state next year. Obama won it by nine points in 2008, but Romney is practically a favorite son. He was governor of neighboring Massachusetts, owns a summer home in the Granite State and is campaigning heavily to win its primary.

But with Obama signaling that he plans to run in part against a do-nothing Congress, Republicans are calling the president’s strategy ironic, given that Obama left on his recent nine-day Pacific trip as the supercommittee was stumbling toward an unsuccessful conclusion.

“This president cannot sit on the sidelines and divide the nation … to try to win his own election,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House majority whip, said Monday on MSNBC. “If you're president, you're the leader of this nation and of the world. You've got to show leadership, not go just campaign and divide the nation.”

As it stands, the payroll tax cut and other provisions, like a patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax and benefits for the unemployed, are set to expire at year’s end.

Washington officials had hoped that the 12 lawmakers on the supercommittee, whose deficit-reduction plan would have been guaranteed up-or-down votes in Congress, would have dealt with those issues.

But with the panel unable to come together on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, lawmakers will be forced to scramble to deal with those lapsing policies.

On Monday, Obama appeared to preview his Tuesday lobbying efforts on behalf of the payroll tax cut, saying that not extending it was “the last thing our middle class and our economy needs right now.”

“There's no reason not to vote for these tax cuts, and if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, then the typical family's taxes is going to go up by roughly a thousand dollars,” the president said as he signed legislation to help veterans find employment and repeal a government withholding provision, ideas also included in his jobs bill. 

The supercommittee’s failure to deal with the payroll tax cut comes after the White House stepped up its pressure on Congress to pass its jobs package, after the Senate killed both the overall plan and two individual planks of it.

In fact, even when Congress sent the president the veterans legislation and withholding repeal, Obama implored lawmakers to pass the rest of his package.

Obama’s poll numbers are lukewarm at best, especially when it comes to his handling of the economy, and his lobbying for the jobs package has not particularly increased his approval ratings.

But surveys have shown broad support for several of the proposals tucked within the American Jobs Act, as well as a surtax on millionaires, the Democrats’ preferred method for paying for the collection of targeted tax cuts and spending measures.

Meanwhile, Congress in general has polled dramatically worse than the president in recent weeks, with one survey placing approval of federal lawmakers at 9 percent. Some pollsters, like Quinnipiac, also recently found Democrats with a lead over Republicans in generic congressional ballots.

Even so, John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said he was skeptical Obama’s campaign could tie what was happening on Capitol Hill to Romney or any other GOP presidential candidate — in large part because Democrats control the Senate.

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Feehery also dubbed Obama’s bid to run against Congress too transparent, and predicted that his hands-off approach with the supercommittee would cost him.

“If he had been in the middle of the scrum, he’d have more credibility,” Feehery said. “It’s completely obvious that he’s trying to blame Congress for his own lack of progress.”

But Democrats, including supercommittee members like Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said the president’s involvement would have only politicized the process even further. And Carney noted Monday that the president had released his own deficit-reduction roadmap during the early stages of the panel’s negotiations.

With Republicans and Democrats still deeply divided over issues like taxes, spending and how to spark economic growth, Democratic strategists are confident that the president could win a popularity battle with Congress.

“The president has had a strong few months, precisely because he has relentlessly cast congressional Republicans as dysfunctional do-nothings who are fiddling while Rome burns,” Doug Thornell, a former spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), told The Hill in an email. “The strategy is working because it has the added benefit of being true.”

Looking forward, GOP lawmakers have yet to fully embrace the payroll tax cut, with some saying that policymakers should look to enact more permanent tax changes.

In his jobs plan, Obama proposes both expanding and extending the payroll tax cut for individuals, and also giving a payroll tax break to employers.

The payroll tax cut allows workers to pay 4.2 percent on their first $106,800 of income, instead of 6.2 percent; the White House plan would bring that rate down to 3.1 percent in 2012.

But some liberal Democrats are themselves concerned that the tax break could hurt Social Security, which is funded by the payroll tax. The 2011 payroll tax cut is estimated to have reduced federal revenues by roughly $112 billion.