(WASHINGTON) -- Ten days remain before the mandatory spending cuts and tax increases known as the “fiscal cliff” take effect, but President Obama says that he is still a “hopeless optimist” that a federal budget deal can be reached before the year-end deadline that economists agree would plunge the country back into recession.
“Even though Democrats and Republicans are arguing about whether those rates should go up for the wealthiest individuals, all of us -- every single one of us -- agrees that tax rates shouldn’t go up for the other 98 percent of Americans, which includes 97 percent of small businesses,” he said, adding there was “no reason” not to move forward on that aspect of theoretical legislation, and that it was “within our capacity” to resolve.
The question of whether to raise taxes on incomes over $250,000 remains at an impasse, but is only one aspect of nuanced legislative wrangling that has left the parties at odds.
At the White House press conference Friday evening the president confirmed he had spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Boehner today, although no details of the conversations have been disclosed. But the talks come the same day Speaker Boehner admitted “God only knows” the solution to the gridlock, and a day after mounting pressure from within his own Republican party forced him to pull his alternative proposal to avoid the fallout.
Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” called for extending current tax rates for Americans making up to $1 million a year, but the lawmaker acknowledged that it did not have the support necessary to pass, leaving a resolution to the fiscal cliff in doubt.
“In the next few days, I've asked leaders of Congress to work towards a package that prevents a tax hike on middle-class Americans, protects unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans, and lays the groundwork for further work on both growth and deficit reduction,” Obama continued. “That's an achievable goal. That can get done in 10 days.”
Complicating matters: The halls of Congress are silent Friday night. The House of Representatives began their holiday recess Thursday and Senate follows Friday evening. Meanwhile, the president has his own vacation to contend with. Friday night he embarks for Hawaii and what is typically several weeks of Christmas vacation. But during the press conference the president said he would see his congressional colleagues “next week” to continue negotiations, leaving uncertain how long Obama plans to remain in the Aloha State.
The president said he hoped the time off would give leaders “some perspective.”
“Everybody can cool off; everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones. And then I'd ask every member of Congress while they’re back home to think about that. Think about the obligations we have to the people who sent us here,” he said, later adding, “This is not simply a contest between parties in terms of who looks good and who doesn’t. There are real-world consequences to what we do here.”
Obama concluded by reiterating that neither side could walk away with “100 percent” of their demands, and that it negotiations couldn’t remain “a contest between parties in terms of who looks good and who doesn’t.”
Speaker Boehner’s office reacted quickly to the remarks, continuing recent statements from his party that presidential leadership was at fault for the ongoing gridlock.
“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 defense cuts. It is time for the Democratic-run Senate to act, and that is what the Speaker told the President tonight.”
The Speaker’s office says he will “will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress.”
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