Mitt Romney specifically endorsed extending a payroll tax cut for another year on Monday, the same day President Obama assailed Republicans in Congress for opposing such a measure.
The former Massachusetts governor endorsed extending the 2011 yearlong tax holiday, using rhetoric similar to Obama's to justify keeping it in place through 2012.
"I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now -- middle-class Americans are having a hard time," he said on conservative talker Michael Medved's radio show.
It's the most concrete statement by Romney to date on the expiring tax cut, which is set to lapse at the end of the year barring action by Congress.
Romney said at an Oct. 11 Bloomberg/Washington Post debate that while he does not favor tax increases, the payroll tax cut extension was a "temporary little band-aid" compared to the overarching economic reforms he would prefer.
(This prompted Obama to take a veiled swipe at Romney during a stop last week in Scranton, Pa. to promote the tax cut. "You know, $1,500 -- that’s not a Band-Aid for middle-class families, that’s a big deal," the president said.)
He was evasive at a Nov. 9 debate on CNBC, explaining that he does not want to raise taxes in the midst of a recession, while observing: "We can't continue to pass on massive debts to the next generation. We can't continue to put at risk the greatest nation in the history of the Earth because of the profligate spending that's going on in Washington, D.C."
The issue of how extending this tax cut might impact the nation's finances is a key question beguiling lawmakers and holding up a deal on the payroll tax on Capitol Hill.
Obama's original proposal (and versions of it since then floated by Senate Democrats) calls for a surtax on millionaires to finance the tax cut. The payroll tax helps pay for Social Security's costs. Democrats also favor expanding the tax cut in 2012 and extending it to employers as well, making its price tag even heftier.
But Republicans have rejected that pay-for measure as a tax hike on small businesses, and have instead demanded a series of wage freezes and layoffs for federal workers, along with means-testing certain benefits, to offset the price of the extension. But there's not unanimity among Republicans over whether they should even extend the tax cut; they worry about its effect on Social Security's bottom line.
Romney didn't address whether he thought the cost of extending the tax cut should be offset, or whether the tax cut should be paid for at all. He did take aim, however, at the president, accusing him of being derelict when it came to entitlement programs' finances.
"I would like to have this as an opportunity to put pressure on the president to finally acknowledge that our entitlement programs -- in the future, not for current retirees -- but for the future of our retirees, it's going to have to be adjusted to make sure it's sustainable," he said. "And I'd like the president to finally, after three years in office, come to grips with the fact that Medicare, in the future, version 2.0, is going to need to be updated. And that higher income people probably shouldn't get the same benefits."