Back in a Washington DC chilled by seasonal temperatures and exacerbated by a dysfunctional Republican-controlled House of Representatives compared to the warm temperatures of his birth state of Hawaii where he left his family this week, President Obama talked to congressional leaders as if he were a parent scolding children who hadn't done their homework.
What the president did, in fact, was to tell national lawmakers who have known for more than a year this day would arrive if they did nothing to avoid it to get something done before the year ends.
Leaving the blue skies of the Hawaiian Islands to return to the nation's capitol Thursday to forge a last-minute deal with congressional leaders that could forestall the dreaded combination of spending cuts and tax increases slated to take effect on the first day of the new year, President Obama, as he's done before with a recalcitrant Congress, painted a picture of what the American people want from their leaders.
Hour for action
In the late afternoon Friday, the president spoke to the nation from the White House, saying something can still be done despite the late hour to do it in.
"For the past couple of months, I’ve been working with leaders of both parties to try and forge an agreement that would grow our economy and shrink the deficit—a balanced plan that would cut spending in a responsible way but also ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more, and, above all, protect our middle class and everybody who is striving to get into the middle class," President Obama said.
"I still want to get this done. It’s the right thing to do for our families, for our businesses, and for our entire economy. But the hour for immediate action is here. It is now."
President Obama, who was elected to a second term in early November, hosted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It represented the president's first meeting with the Congressional leaders since leaving Hawaii. The meeting is widely seen as maybe the last pitch to prevent taxes from rising and spending from getting cut in 2013.
GOP leaders announced on Thursday that the House will come back into session on Sunday. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the House Speaker will "continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act." A spokesman for McConnell said the senator is "eager to hear from the President."
President Obama said that if no action is taken, "every American’s paycheck will get considerably smaller ... And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy, it would be bad for middle-class families, and it would be bad for businesses that depend on family spending. Fortunately, Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now."
On the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Hopefully there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly preventable economic crisis.”
Mr. Obama said last week that he would reach for a smaller deal that would extend tax rates on annual incomes below $250,000 while allowing rates above that threshold to rise. Moreover, he also wants an extension of unemployment benefits, but said he would put off broader entitlement reforms until next year, as well as a hike to the debt ceiling. Reports said it's unclear whether Republicans would act on legislation that only extends the rates on annual incomes below $250,000.
The meeting Friday at the White House appeared to have glimmers of good news, according to White House reports that pointed to a constructive discussion. "I’m optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," the president said, adding that he wants Senators Reid and McConnell to continue working toward an agreement.
But should it an agreement not be reached in time, the White House as advised Majority Leader Senator Reid "to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote –- one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to two million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction."
Noting that the American people are "watching what we do here," the president nonetheless said it's more "déjà vu all over again" as America wonders why it is in this town, that for some reason, "you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable; why everything always has to wait until the last minute ... Well, we're now at the last minute, and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now."
Articulating improvements that cannot be denied, President Obama said these advances cannot be squandered for partisan political reasons. However, based on how things get done since he's been president, he said, "We always have to wait and see until it actually happens. The one thing that the American people should not have to wait and see is some sort of action."
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