Facing a stalemate in "fiscal cliff" talks, President Barack Obama on Friday pressed his Republican foes in Congress to have some eggnog, sing some Christmas carols and come back to work next week ready to pass a scaled-back plan to help middle-class Americans.
“Call me a hopeless optimist, but I actually still think we can get it done,” the president said in hastily announced remarks in the White House briefing room. “This is something within our capacity to solve. It doesn’t take that much work. We just have to do the right thing.”
Facing a Jan. 1 deadline, the president and Republican House Speaker John Boehner have thus far failed to agree on a compromise that would avert the largest tax hike in American history and painful government spending cuts that, taken together, could plunge the fragile economy into a new recession.
Obama pressed polarized lawmakers to extend current tax rates on household income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits due to expire and set the stage for broader talks in 2013 on reducing the deficit. “That’s an achievable goal that can get done in 10 days,” he insisted.
“I am still ready and willing to get a comprehensive package done,” he added.
“As we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective," he said. "Everybody can cool off. Everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones.”Conservative opposition to raising any tax rates forced Boehner to yank a “Plan B” fall-back option late Thursday. That legislation would have raised rates only on income above $1 million. The speaker said early Friday that “God only knows” how Washington can avoid the "fiscal cliff" and said it was now up to Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to find a way.
Republicans "remain hopeful" that Obama "is finally ready to get serious about averting the fiscal cliff," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck told reporters by email. "Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress.”
Obama spoke to Boehner by telephone and met with Reid at the White House before making his remarks. Afterward, he left for his home state of Hawaii to spend Christmas with his family. His schedule did not include a return date, but Congress was expected back in Washington on Dec. 27.
The White House has said that it is prepared to go off the "cliff," while warning that the expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts and profound cuts to domestic and defense spending could sorely weaken an economy that has just started to show signs of strength. Democrats also worry about the fate of some 2 million Americans whose unemployment benefits will expire Jan. 1.
"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," the president said Friday as he pleaded for bipartisan compromise.
“In this Congress, laws can only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans,” the president said. “And that means nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Everybody’s got to give a little bit in a sensible way. We move forward together, or we do not move forward and all.”