By Mark S. Smith
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama signed the payroll tax cut extension into law Wednesday, notching an election-year victory and rare bipartisan agreement in the continuing partisan battle over jobs, taxes and debt.
The $143 billion measure that Congress passed overwhelmingly on Friday continues the 2 percentage-point reduction in the tax that funds Social Security, a cut begun last year to aid the nation's struggling economic recovery. It also extends jobless benefits for between 63 weeks and 73 weeks, and averts a big cut in the reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.
The president signed the measure without ceremony Wednesday, having already celebrated its passage at an event Tuesday at the White House.
Obama senior adviser David Plouffe emailed his gratitude to people who sent the White House their stories about how losing the tax cut would affect their lives.
"Extending the payroll tax cut was a critical step for middle class families, but we still have a lot more work to do. So get ready," Plouffe wrote in an email that included a photograph of Obama signing the bill at his Oval Office desk.
The payroll tax cut became a centerpiece of the jobs plan Obama unveiled in September - and of a re-election strategy that seeks to cast his GOP foes as protectors of the rich and out of touch with the worries of working families.
The administration estimates that for a worker earning 50,000 a year, the tax holiday means $80 a month in extra take-home pay. For better-paid employees, the bonus could total $2,200 a year.
But the cost to the deficit is substantial: another $93 billion for the latest extension. However, bowing to its inevitability, House GOP leaders last week agreed not to demand spending cuts to offset the lost tax revenues.
The legislation also extended benefits for the long-term unemployed that average about $300 a week, though Obama and Democratic allies compromised over an initial demand for 99 more weeks. Those benefits will be paid for by auctioning broadcast frequencies and requiring newly hired federal workers to contribute more to their pensions.
Obama maintained that both extensions are crucial to supporting a still-fragile recovery from the nation's deepest recession since the 1930s.
GOP leaders initially balked at the extensions, then clashed with Obama and congressional Democrats over how to pay for them. As the holidays approached in December, their opposition drew a fierce public backlash, especially when House Republicans rejected a compromise that Senate leaders had brokered. In the end, Republicans accepted a two-month extension - after paying a heavy political price.
"We did not want to repeat the debacle," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. "We're dumb, but we're not stupid."
The extension puts off until December - after the presidential and congressional elections - a mix of taxing and spending decisions, including whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts, increasing the debt ceiling and meeting a trillion-dollar spending cut requirement.
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