When members of the White House Press Corps found the auditorium at the Old Executive Office Building Standing Room Only and were forced to stand during the President’s remarks this afternoon, we knew it would be something other than the pre-Christmas press conference he held in the same room in 2010.
As he did earlier in the week, President Obama used the occasion to castigate Republicans in the House who have thwarted the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. Flanked at the podium by a crowd of people from around the country whom he said would be affected by the failure of Congress to extend the payroll tax cut, the President declared he was “ready to sign the compromise [package] into law” as soon as it reaches his desk. Calling on Americans impacted by the tax cut to “bring your voices” into the debate, he went on to read moving letters from more than 30,000 who had taken the White House up at its request and written what they would give up without the money they would save from the cut.
At several points, the crowd applauded–giving the casual television viewer the impression that the overflowing audience were all people desperately in favor of the Administration’s extension.
But, as several of us who cover the President found out, that wasn’t exactly so. A number of those who were there–invited by the White House Office of Public Engagement and coming from groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security–came to support different causes.
Ilene Stein of the Medicare Rights Center made it clear to HUMAN EVENTS that she was not there to cheer on the President for fighting for a tax cut extension, but because her organization was “concerned about the [pending] expiration of a little-known program known as Q-I.” Stein explained that the program, whose acronym stands for “Qualifying Individual” is a federal block grant “that helps low and moderate income people pay for Medicare.” Failure to enact the legislation that includes the payroll tax cut would mean failure to renew Q-I, she said.
“We’re not for the payroll tax extension–not at at all,” was the surprising answer Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, gave to HUMAN EVENTS when we asked about his being there. Richtman said his organization was there because if the payroll tax cut is extended, “it will mean $145 billion from Social Security over the next year and in twelve months, it will be crunch time for Social Security and we will be competing with other programs for money.”
When this reporter pointed out that the legislation in question only extended the payroll tax cut two months, he replied: “So we do this all over again in two months? Look, there’s no such thing as a temporary tax cut.”
HUMAN EVENTS did try to ask representatives of the AFL-CIO in the crowd if they agreed with their leaders that the President should change his position and give immediate support to the jobs-creating Keystone XL Pipeline–Obama’s opposition being a key reason lawmakers give for not supporting the payroll tax cut extension. But they told us to “talk to our spokesman; he’s dealing with the press.” (We could not get hold of the spokesman during the session today).
There were other groups joining the President who are urging lawmakers to enact the temporary tax cut, such as the National Employment Law Project. But the crowd today at the Old Executive Office Building was not unanimous in its support of the measure that now dominates talk at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.