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Obama Pushes Payroll Tax Cut in Scranton, Pa.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.


And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama took his call for payroll tax relief to Scranton, Pennsylvania today. It was his ninth visit to the state this year, underscoring the role that Pennsylvania will play in the 2012 election. The president told a crowd at Scranton High School that extending the payroll tax cut should trump partisan politics.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Send your senators a message. Tell them - don't be a Grinch.


OBAMA: Don't be a Grinch. Don't vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.

BLOCK: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Scranton. And, Scott, the payroll tax cut is part of President Obama's jobs bill. This is getting to be a familiar refrain for the president, as he heads out into the country and urges Congress to pass at least part of that bill.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Melissa. And the payroll tax cut is something that was passed in the lame-duck session last year, and it's due to expire at the end of December. If it does, anybody who draws a paycheck will see a little less money come January. And that's about 160 million workers, including 6.8 million here in Pennsylvania.

This year's tax cut saved the typical family about $1,000 and Mr. Obama wants to increase that to about $1,500 in the new year. If Congress does nothing, he says, it'll amount to a tax increase on working families.

BLOCK: Now, the Senate is expected to vote on the tax relief later this week. It doesn't seem likely to pass, Scott, at least not in the form that it is now. Why not?


HORSLEY: Well, that's right. Maybe the Scranton High band had that in mind when they were playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" before the president took the stage.


HORSLEY: The Senate Republicans don't like the idea that the Democrats have to pay for this payroll tax cut with higher taxes on people making in excess of $1 million a year. Now, the Senate Republicans say they will propose an alternative way to pay for the payroll tax cut.

And in the end, it's likely the two parties will come to some kind of agreement to at least preserve the existing tax cut for the new year. I think the chances that they find a way to increase it, as President Obama has proposed, is a little less likely.

BLOCK: And President Obama held a similar event last week, in Manchester, New Hampshire that time. There is a political logic or calculus to these locations, right?

HORSLEY: I think so. Pennsylvania, like New Hampshire, is a state that Mr. Obama won in 2008 and where he would very much like to repeat, if he is to win re-election next year. And Republicans have made gains in both states since 2008. So, while this is ostensibly official business promoting his jobs measure and the payroll tax cut, this is also very much a campaign opportunity for Mr. Obama and a chance to show the Democratic flag.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about Pennsylvania, because the president carried that state pretty handily back in 2008. It has been going through a painfully slow recovery from the recession. How does that affect the president's standing there now?

HORSLEY: Yeah - unemployment here in Pennsylvania, it's actually a little better than the rest of the country, but it's still above eight percent. And this little corner of the state, Scranton, has just about the highest jobless rate in Pennsylvania, nearly 10 percent. So it's an uphill climb. But Lackawanna County is still a heavily Democratic area. This county gave Mr. Obama his second highest margin in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, in 2008. He trounced John McCain in Lackawanna County.

And a lot of the folks I talked to today, although they voice concern about the economy, they don't hold President Obama personally responsible. A lot of people said something to the effect that he's doing the best that he can, given congressional opposition to some of the things he's trying to do.

BLOCK: And along with the pitch for the payroll tax relief, the president also doing some fundraising today.

HORSLEY: Yeah, campaign cash could be his biggest cushion against the political headwinds. And so, after he left Pennsylvania this afternoon, he headed for New York. He's speaking at three fundraisers tonight before heading back to Washington late this evening.

BLOCK: And at those fundraisers, presumably they were not saying you can't always get what you want.


HORSLEY: They hope he gets what he wants.

BLOCK: NPR's Scott Horsley, speaking with us from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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