President Barack Obama Thursday piled pressure on Republicans to give 160 million Americans a short-term payroll tax holiday, but his foes in a bitter year-end stalemate refused to back down.
The showdown reflected the no-holds-barred struggle for control of power in Washington, which is divided between Democrats and Republicans, as both sides seek to inflict telling blows ahead of Obama's 2012 reelection race.
Obama scheduled an event to highlight the $40 average Americans stand to lose from paychecks every two weeks if Congress does not renew the benefit by January 1, as a political imbroglio deepened three days before Christmas.
House Republicans are being pilloried by Democrats, elements of the conservative media and luminaries from their own side for blocking a bipartisan Senate compromise which extended the payroll tax benefit for two months.
But Speaker John Boehner on Thursday refused to back down, vowing to extend the payroll tax break for a year, saying that a two-month proposal created uncertainty for job-creating small businesses.
"The fact is, we can do better. Americans are still asking the question, where are the jobs?" Boehner said.
An aide revealed Boehner called Obama Thursday to ask him to send his economic team to Capitol Hill to discuss a year-long extension -- a goal the president originally supported.
"The president declined the Speaker’s offer," the aide said.
The White House said Obama told Boehner a two-month extension was the only viable option with the January 1 deadline looming.
But floating a possible compromise, Obama said he would commit to working on a year-long extension as soon as the House passed a two-month bill.
Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday also weighed in, breaking the silence that he has maintained since the weekend.
McConnell called on Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid to appoint negotiators to thrash out a one-year plan and for the House to pass the two-month payroll tax holiday extension.
"These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both."
But Reid has refused to recall his members, to seek a new deal, after the House blocked the Senate compromise which passed 89-10 at the weekend.
As a complex political chess game unfolds in Washington, Obama has put off plans to head to the surf and sand of Hawaii to join his wife and daughters for their annual end-of-year vacation.
If the benefit is not extended, the payroll tax, which is separate from income taxes, would go up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent on January 1 and two million Americans would lose federal unemployment benefits.
Another key party figure meanwhile joined a torrent of criticism of House Republicans, which included a lacerating critique of the "fiasco" by the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page.
Karl Rove, former Republican president George W. Bush's political guru told Fox News that his side had lost the "optics" of the debate.
"The question is, how do the Republicans get out of it? There is only one way to get out of it, and that is stay in Washington," he said.
"Wait until President Obama gets on an airplane and heads to Hawaii, hold a session of the House vote, vote the two-month extension and use it as an opportunity to beat up on the now long absent Democrats and the absent president."
A White House official said Obama would Thursday highlight the pain caused to average Americans who stand to lose $40 a paycheck if the tax cut is allowed to lapse on January 1.
The president took to Twitter late Wednesday to deliver a rare, personal tweet.
"Everyone should see what #40dollars means to folks: groceries, daycare, gas copays. Keep it going. I'll talk abt this tmrow @12:15ET. -bo," the president tweeted.