President Obama emerged from a last-minute meeting with congressional leaders on Friday “modestly optimistic” that a deal could be reached in time to avoid a series of steep tax increases and deep spending cuts next year.
“The hour for immediate action is here, it is now,” Obama said from the White House Briefing Room, calling earlier talks with House and Senate leaders “good and constructive.”
Obama said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, would work to craft a package that could be voted on by Sunday, when the House returns from its holiday recess. However, he added that if a deal wasn’t reached, Reid would call for an up-or-down vote on a scaled-back bill that would extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year.
Obama met with the Senate leaders, as well as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Friday afternoon. Though no deal was reached, each party agreed that the onus was on the Senate to act.
Obama didn’t offer a new proposal during the White House meeting, instead sticking to a plan floated last week that calls for higher taxes on couples making more than $250,000 annually, an extension of unemployment benefits and the postponement of scheduled spending cuts.
The president also used his bully pulpit to lecture Congress for failing to compromise ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline.
“The American people are watching what we do here. Obviously, their patience is already thin. It’s déjà vu all over again,” Obama said. “The American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self inflicted wound to our economy.”
For their part, congressional leaders also expressed guarded optimism that Washington would not plunge over the cliff.
“There’s no concrete proposal at this time,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill after the 65-minute meeting. “We have a number of different directions we’re going to try to take and we’re going to see what can be worked out.”
He added, ”I’ve had my confidence destroyed on other occasions, so I hope it’s not on this occasion.”
The details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations remain hazy. Arguably the lone area of consensus was that the Senate must put forward a path to compromise.
Summarizing the White House meeting, a Boehner aide said, “The Speaker told the President that if the Senate amends the House-passed legislation and sends back a plan, the House will consider it – either by accepting or amending. The group agreed that the next step should be the Senate taking bipartisan action.”
However, the GOP is unlikely to accept Obama’s proposal without significant changes. They argue that spending, not tax revenue, is at fault for the nation’s dismal fiscal standing.
If leaders don’t unite behind a deal, the average American family would see its taxes increase by $3,500 next year.
Looking for the upper hand in negotiations, Obama will appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the network announced.