President Barack Obama, framing the fiscal debate in Washington as a question of protecting the middle class, asked members of Congress today to spend the coming holiday break thinking of their obligations to the American public.
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with leaders of both parties on a proposal to get our deficit under control, avoid tax hikes on the middle class,” the president said this evening at a podium in the West Wing of the White House. “I offered to cooperate with members of Congress. I met them half way on taxes, and I met them more than half way on spending.”
“In 10 days, we face a deadline,” he said, pointing out that negotiators are divided over taxes for the wealthiest as automatic tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect on Jan. 1. “All of us, every single one of us, agrees that tax rates shouldn’t go up for the other 98 percent of Americans… At the very least, let’s agree on what we can agree on.”
“Averting this middle-class tax hike is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility,” he said, voicing optimism about the possibility still for a compromise. “Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Everybody’s got to give a little bit.”
The president is headed for Hawaii for the Christmas holiday with his family, and members of Congress are headed home — with everyone expected to return the middle of next week.
As they leave town for the holidays, he said, “everybody can cool off… everybody can drink some egg nog… and then I’d ask every member of Congress to think about that while they’re back home.”
Obama met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada today, and the president said this evening that he had just spoken with House Speaker John Boehner, who said this morning — after failing to find support for his plan among his party’s caucus — that it’s up to the Democrats to advance a plan. The Democrats “run Washington,” Boehner said.
“The two leading protagonists are the president and Speaker Boehner,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters today. “If they come to an agreement, it will not be too hard to get the Senate to fall in line,” the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat said. “If they don’t come to an agreement, I don’t think the Senate even coming to an agreement would help, and it’s not going to happen.”
“The Senate has already passed a bill to keep income taxes from going up on middle-class families,” Obama said on Nov. 30. “They’re ready to vote on that same thing. And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, we can pass the bill in the House. It will land on my desk, and I am ready — I’ve got a bunch of pens ready to sign this bill. ”
Kathleen Hunter and Joe Sobczyk contributed to this report.