Gas, presents — and patience

Chrysa Swan of James Island is one of more than 1.2 million state residents who AAA Carolinas expects will travel at least 50 miles from home for the holidays. Swan is headed to Hendersonville, N.C., to spend Christmas with her family.

CHICAGO -- As Americans watched yet another political drama play out on Capitol Hill -- this time over whether to extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits -- they have a question for Congress: Can't you all just get along? For once?

"It's like, 'Kids, kids, kids,'" said Brenda Bissett, a lawyer from Santa Clarita, Calif., as she waited for coffee Wednesday at a Starbucks in downtown Los Angeles. "It's just frustrating that there's no compromise. I think that both parties have been listening too much to their far ends."

Regardless of their backgrounds, incomes or political leanings, people say they're angry and downright disgusted by the posturing in Washington after the Senate approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and adjourned for the holidays. House leaders originally balked at it before agreeing to the deal Thursday night.

If lawmakers didn't act by Jan. 1, payroll taxes would have jumped almost $20 a week, or $1,000 a year, for a worker earning $50,000, and as much as $82 a week, or $4,272 a year, for a household with two high-paid workers. What's more, about 6 million people would lose unemployment benefits, and Medicare payments to doctors would be slashed.

"The Senate ... should have tried to stay and resolve this for the American people," said Jorge Gonzalez, an accounting clerk at a law firm in Miami.

President Barack Obama urged congressional leaders to return to Washington to pass a short-term payroll tax cut extension before New Year's Day, promising in return to start working immediately on a full-year extension. House Republicans have insisted that both chambers instead negotiate a full-year agreement by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the public could only wait and wonder -- and stew.

"I understand every dollar is every dollar, but I think there are some bigger problems that we have here that can put a lot more money in your pocket than a $20 payroll tax," said Thomas Lowndes, who owns a real estate investment business in Charleston and was in Louisville, Ky., for a basketball game.

A payroll tax increase would come at a vulnerable time for some people who already have been affected by falling property values and, in some cases, state tax increases, and some said they would spend less on things like dining out.

Others, though, said they were willing to pay more if it means reducing the deficit.