Payroll Tax Standoff May Keep Obama In Washington For Christmas

The ongoing standoff over the Payroll Tax Cut is presenting President Obama with a political dilemma regarding the Christmas holidays:

President Obama faces a most difficult decision with the payroll tax extension up in the air, and it isn’t whether to compromise with Republicans.

The toughest call for the president this holiday season may be whether to join his family for Christmas in Hawaii or stay in lonely Washington.

The White House won’t say whether the president is heading west for the holidays—or even if he’s making an abbreviated appearance.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that Obama “intends to stay and work with Congress to ensure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up.”

Even if there’s no ideal time for a presidential vacation, this one comes at a particularly inopportune time.  For weeks, Obama has insisted that lawmakers stay in town to pass the tax extension. Otherwise, as he said earlier this month, “we can all spend Christmas here together.”

Now, with the payroll tax extension compromise unsettled, and members of Congress already back at home, does Obama up and leave, too? Or will the president be forced to spend the holidays at an empty White House with the Yule Log on TV listening to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas?”

“If he stays, he could be seen as the only adult in the room,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. “If he leaves, it could hurt him.”

The question of whether Obama would stay in Washington was posed to Carney a couple of times during Tuesday’s briefing at the White House.

“Are you saying there’s a scenario that’s possible, on December 25th, where the president wakes up and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is on, and he puts on his Christmas sweater in the White House, and he’s all alone and his family is in Hawaii?” Ed Henry, the senior White House correspondent for Fox News wondered.

“I’m reluctant to say where he’s going to be on which day because I don’t want to make this about him,” Carney responded after jokingly asking Henry if he’s available to spend time with the president on Christmas. “It is a very fluid situation. It’s hard to know what tomorrow is going to look like, what the next day is going to look like, as this saga continues.”

Of course, it’s entirely possible for POTUS to fly out to Hawaii at the end of the week, spend Christmas with his family, then fly back early next week. After all, it’s not like John Boehner and the House Republicans are going to be spending the weekend reciting Twas The Night Before Christmas on the House Floor while waiting up all night for Santa Claus to arrive. Of course, some would criticize the President for the cost of such a short trip to America’s 50th state, but really, only Scrooge would complain about a father wanting to spend Christmas with his family. Frankly, given the fact that the ball is in the House GOP’s court right now and they seem to be bungling this entire affair, I wouldn’t blame the President for just saying “Guys, I’m going on vacation, call me when you’re ready to talk, you know the number.” As I’ve said here numerous times, I find the political games that get played over Presidential recreational and vacation time to be mostly idiotic, so it frankly wouldn’t bother me.

Nonetheless, the political dilemma the White House is in is pretty clear. Right now, though, the President is winning the PR war here and I’m not sure where he spends Christmas is really going to matter to most people.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Taxes, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    The thought that any action or statement of President Obama can hurt him politically is laughable. His advisors know that he will be re-elected even if he is caught in the shower with a 10 y/o boy. The only questions these days is how much do the actions of the Democrats hurt the Republicans during the 2012 election.

    Also, after watching Rep John Lewis’s histrionics concerning the temporary social security tax cut, will anyone care when the Democrats do not extend it for 2013 if Democrats win control of the U.S. House from the Republicans? Will the Democrats act indignant when they raise taxes in 2013?

  2. Hey Norm says:

    He should wait for the GOP’ers to leave town…which they will…then sign an executive order extending the tax cut and the UE benefits to February. All he has to do then is kick back and watch the fire-works.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    There is little item called the constitution that prevents the president from doing that. But in the age of the coming one-party-state, I guess it makes sense that progressives believe that rules are for others.

  4. bandit says:

    He can blame somebody else from Hawaii too.

  5. @superdestroyer:

    Constitution? They don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution!

    In all seriousness, you are correct. The President has absolutely no authority to unilaterally make tax policy by Executive Order.

  6. Tom Hilton says:

    …but really, only Scrooge would complain about a father wanting to spend Christmas with his family.

    And fortunately, there’s no opposition party that has adopted both the policies and the behavior of old Ebenezer.

    Oh, wait….

  7. Moosebreath says:

    I suspect he’d rather be listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Melli Kalikimaka” with his family than Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” in Washington alone. Therefore, I think that he will wait until Congress leaves town before leaving and will make it clear that he will return if Congress does.

  8. IL8 says:

    Obama must not leave, no matter what.

    Rather than spend $4million on his own vacation Obama ought to take $1million and throw a great party on xmas day for as many US Troops as will fit in the White House. Have a major feast. Bears/Packers game on TV. Honor these heroes.

    Troops win. Taxpayers save $3million. Obama misses a Holiday but it’s his own fault for such dismal Leadership. Everyone wins that matters and only the people that don’t deserve better are harmed

  9. Hey Norm says:

    @ Super &. Doug…
    My intention with the executive order is not to actually extend anything….only to make Republican heads explode.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    “… but it’s his own fault for such dismal Leadership…”
    How does Tea Bag insanity have anything to do with Obamas leadership?
    Pathetic repetition of baseless memes.

  11. mantis says:

    Drudge and his minions (i.e. the entire rightosphere) went nuts about the rest of the Obama family flying to Hawaii separately the other day (you can see IL8 ate it up with a spoon). You’d think they’d be happy that a bunch of Muslims like the Obamas are celebrating Christmas, but no, they’re addicted to rageahol.

    My intention with the executive order is not to actually extend anything….only to make Republican heads explode.

    You’re indulging in fantasies to drive Republicans crazy and the best you come up with is an unconstitutional act to extend tax cuts for two months? Pretty weak.

  12. @Hey Norm:

    My intention with the executive order is not to actually extend anything….only to make Republican heads explode.

    If I wanted a president make policy pushes they knows will fail, just for the pleasure of pushing the opposition’s buttons, I’d have voted for Palin.

  13. bandit says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Pathetic repetition of baseless memes.

    Hilarious – like your every nonthought

  14. Scott says:

    How about interim appointments for all those blocked in the Senate? That would create a lot of noise.

  15. lunaticllama says:

    Republicans are not “bungling this affair.” They are pursuing their policy goals.

    Doug, the stated, explicit Republican agenda is to raise taxes on the middle class, and give free money to rich people.

    I’m not sure why you don’t seem to understand the goals of the major political party you are most sympathetic to.