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End of payroll tax battle buoys White House

Obama closes ’11 on a strong note

WASHINGTON - As Congress ended its standoff yesterday over an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, the mood at the White House was exultant - more suggestive of a momentous legislative victory than the temporary resolution of the tax policy fight.

With a public humiliation of the House Republicans, President Obama may have closed the year in a stronger position both for dealing with Congress and running for reelection.

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In under an hour yesterday, the House and Senate dispensed with weeks of partisan bickering, passing a bill to ensure a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.

Obama signed the legislation hours later, as soon as it arrived from Capitol Hill, calling the resolution “good news just in the nick of time for the holidays.’’

“Because of this agreement, every working American will keep their tax cut,’’ Obama told reporters, and vital assistance will continue for the long-term unemployed.

“More money spent by more Americans means more businesses hiring more workers, and that’s a boost for everybody,’’ he said.

In his remarks, the president sounded his campaign theme of fighting for the middle class, and at one point looked into the cameras in the White House briefing room as if addressing viewers, and said: “It’s about you, it’s about your lives, it’s about your families. You didn’t send us to this town to play partisan games.’’

The fight over how and whether to pass an extension was settled Thursday afternoon, when House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, agreed - against the will of many of the chamber’s most conservative members - to a Senate bill to extend the benefits for two months while a longer deal is worked out.

The bill also called for Democrats to appoint conferees to a bicameral committee to come up with a longer-term measure, a request from the House Republicans. The conferees are expected to begin meeting during the winter break.

After a year of fending off criticisms from Democrats and Obama’s liberal base that he seemed too quick to compromise with Republicans - he had “caved,’’ many said after past showdowns like the August debt limit fight -

White House aides were ebullient to see headlines like “Blink’’ on the Drudge Report website and “Cave’’ on The Huffington Post, referring to Republicans.

The two parties remain divided over how to offset the cost for a full-year extension, but the two-month bridge buys time to resume negotiations in January.

The negotiations will be conducted by lawmakers selected by congressional leaders.

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