President Barack Obama delivered an unexpected update on the status of negotiations to avert the year-end fiscal cliff, saying he was still optimistic that a “comprehensive” deal could get done before a deadline in 10 days.”I want next year to be a year of strong economic growth. … Call me a hopeless optimist, but I still think we can get this done,” Obama said.
At the same time, he called on Congress to ensure that taxes do not go up on middle-class Americans by Jan. 1, leaving open the possibility of putting off negotiations on a “grand bargain.”
“As of today, I am still ready and willing to get a comprehensive package done,” Obama said. But, he added, “there is absolutely no reason — none — not to protect” the middle-class from a tax increase.
Obama was more than a half-hour late to a scheduled 5 p.m. press conference, explaining that he had met with both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid beforehand.
Obama said he hoped that the coming holiday break would give all parties in the fiscal cliff debate some “perspective,” telling members of Congress to “cool off, drink some egg nog, sing some carols” and eat Christmas cookies. Obama and his family will leave for Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
“Now’s not the time for more self-inflicted wounds. Certainly not those coming from Washington,” Obama said. “Think about the hardship that so many Americans will endure if Congress does nothing at all.”
Obama’s statement came a day after a setback to John Boehner, who proposed a “Plan B” alternative after he became frustrated with the pace of negotiations with the White House earlier in the week. Boehner failed to garner enough support to bring Plan B to a vote on Thursday.
Boehner shifted the onus last night to Obama and Reid, who went back and forth with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor earlier this afternoon. Reid also urged the House to immediately pass the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, which the Senate narrowly passed in July. The bill made permanent all of the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes of less than $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement tonight that Boehner told the president it was “time for the Democratic-run Senate to act.”
Here’s the full statement:
“Though the President has failed to offer any solution that passes the test of balance, we remain hopeful he is finally ready to get serious about averting the fiscal cliff. The House has already acted to stop all of the looming tax hikes and replace the automatic defence cuts. It is time for the Democratic-run Senate to act, and that is what the Speaker told the President tonight. Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress.”