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Obama pushes Congress on initiatives for middle class

By Alan Silverleib and Jessica Yellin, CNN
updated 1:36 PM EST, Tue February 21, 2012
President Obama says he's ready to move ahead with his domestic agenda with or without congressional support.
President Obama says he's ready to move ahead with his domestic agenda with or without congressional support.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama celebrates payroll tax cut, urges Congress to pass other domestic initiatives
  • Obama says he is prepared to move ahead with or without Congress
  • The payroll tax cut extension passed Congress last week
  • The tax break is worth about $83 a month for someone making $50,000 a year

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday praised Congress' decision to extend the payroll tax cut while also pushing legislators to enact the rest of what the administration characterizes as its economic support plan for the middle class.

The president declared he is prepared to move ahead with his domestic agenda whenever possible with or without congressional support -- a message with clear political overtones in the current election season.

"For a typical middle class family, (the payroll tax cut) is a big deal," Obama said. "Now my message to Congress is don't stop here. Keep going. ... This may be an election year, but the American people have no patience for gridlock (and) reflexive partisanship."

Obama outlined a number of proposals believed to have little or no chance of winning approval among Republicans on Capitol Hill, most notably the so-called "Buffett Rule" designed to ensure people earning more than $1 million annually pay at least a 30% tax rate.

"Wherever we have an opportunity, we're going to take steps on our own," the president said. "We've got a choice right now. We can either settle for a country where a few people are doing very well and everybody else is having to just struggle to get by, or we can build an economy where everybody gets a fair shot and everybody's doing their fair share and everybody is taking responsibility."

The White House believes Republicans are more willing to make deals in the wake of a bruising fight over raising the debt limit last year, according to a senior administration official. Political analysts, however, note that even if Obama's proposals fail to pass Congress, the president can draw a clear distinction between himself and his Republican opponents.

Some analysts have speculated Obama is also laying the groundwork for a possible reprise of Harry Truman's successful 1948 campaign against a so-called "do-nothing" Congress.

At the moment, however, Democrats are taking a victory lap for the extension of the payroll tax cut. The roughly $100 billion measure, a key part of Obama's economic recovery plan, has reduced how much 160 million American workers pay into Social Security on their first $110,100 in wages. Instead of paying 6.2% had it lapsed, they'll be paying 4.2%, a break worth about $83 a month for someone making $50,000 a year.

The measure, which passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate last Friday, also extends unemployment benefits and avoids a Medicare fee cut for doctors for the rest of the year. Obama has promised to sign the bill into law when it hits his desk this week.

The payroll tax issue proved problematic for Republicans, who were caught between competing goals of providing the tax cut and paying for it. GOP leaders this month acknowledged they angered voters by initially raising objections to the unpaid tax cut extension.

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