Obama Says He Is ‘Hopeful’ for 2012, Greater Economic Growth

President Barack Obama, saying he’s “hopeful” for 2012 after a year that brought the beginnings of an economic recovery, called on Congress to extend a payroll tax cut for a full year to help Americans struggling to improve their lives.

“I’m hopeful because of what we saw right before Christmas, when members of Congress came together to prevent a tax hike for 160 million Americans -- saving a typical family about $40 in every paycheck,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address from Honolulu, where he is on vacation with his family. “And I expect Congress to finish the job by extending these provisions through the end of 2012.”

Before Obama left for Hawaii, he signed a two-month payroll tax-cut extension, preventing a cut in take-home pay after the end of this year. Congress will return to Washington in January and attempt to settle a debate about how to pay for the year-long extension. Senate Democrats have pushed for a surtax on million-dollar incomes, a proposal Republicans have rejected.

The two-month, last-minute agreement capped a year of partisan battles that threatened the shutdown of the federal government in April and a default on government debt obligations over the summer.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would delay a request to increase the U.S. debt limit by $1.2 trillion to give lawmakers more time to return to Washington and register their concerns with the increase, as allowed in the Budget Control Act.

‘Crippling Blow’

Taking stock of 2011, Obama said “we dealt a crippling blow to al-Qaeda and made America more secure.” He didn’t specifically mention the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“We stood by our friends and allies around the world through natural disasters and revolutions,” he said of a year during which dictatorships fell in North Africa and a tsunami devastated Japan.  “And we began to see signs of economic recovery here at home, even as too many Americans are still struggling to get ahead.”

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, delivering the Republican weekly address, said that his party’s “No. 1 goal” would be to make it easier for small businesses to create jobs.

“We’ll accomplish this by focusing on three things: fundamental tax reform, regulatory reform and energy security,” he said. “In 2012, Republicans will continue to fight for much-needed tax reform for all American families and small businesses.”

‘We Can’t Wait’

Drawing on the “We Can’t Wait” language used by Obama as part of his push to use executive action to spur job growth, Isakson said, “Americans cannot wait until after the November election.”

“They need us to do our job and do it right now to create an economic climate that makes it easier to put people back to work,” he said.

After his vacation, Obama plans to visit Cleveland, Ohio, on Jan. 4, a day after Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses, which could winnow the Republican presidential field.

“We intend to ramp up the pace of ‘We Can’t Wait’ initiatives” in the new year, White House spokesman Earnest told reporters in Hawaii. “This will reinforce the contrast with a Congress that is not getting very much done on behalf of the American people.”

In addition to lowering the payroll tax workers pay on their first $106,000 of income to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, Obama will press Congress to pass portions of the $447 billion American Jobs Act that he submitted to Congress in September, such as infrastructure spending, Earnest said.

The president will also urge the Senate to confirm former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he said.

“We’ve got some difficult debates and some tough fights to come,” Obama said. “We are at a make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

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