Obama ups pressure on Republicans over fiscal deal
US President Barack Obama upped the pressure on Republican leaders to negotiate a last-minute fiscal deal on Sunday, as he blamed them for the failure to find a compromise amid the crisis.
US President Barack Obama is applying pressure on Republican leaders to negotiate a fiscal deal, arguing that they have rejected his past attempts to strike a bigger and more comprehensive bargain.
He blamed a Republican refusal to raise taxes on the rich for the "fiscal cliff" crisis as top lawmakers haggled in a desperate end-of-year search for a stop-gap deal, slamming foes in Congress as the clock ticked down to an automatic avalanche of tax hikes coming into force Tuesday.
Obama says his offers to Republicans “have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me.” He cited a proposal he made to House Speaker John Boehner to reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries.
Obama made his remarks during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” TV news show that aired Sunday. Obama granted the interview as the Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders worked to cut a scaled-back bargain to avoid automatic tax increases on nearly all Americans.
He says Republicans have “had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers.”
"Now the pressure's on Congress to produce," Obama said in the “Meet the Press” interview that was recorded Saturday. He barely concealed his anger that Republicans have refused what he sees as a reasonable compromise.
"So far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done," he added. "Not because Democrats in Congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate."
Obama said it had been "very hard" for top Republican leaders to accept that "taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package."
A smaller, 'scaled back' deal?
As Obama's interview was broadcast, top Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate groped for a scaled back plan that would stop taxes going up on the middle class but leave most big budget questions unanswered.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to seal a deal by mid afternoon on Sunday for there to be time to get votes passed through the Senate and the House by January 1.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday that chances for a small "fiscal Cliff" deal in the next 48 hours were "exceedingly good" and that President Barack Obama had won.
"I think people don't want to go over the cliff if we can avoid it," Graham said on Fox News Sunday.
"This deal won't affect the debt situation, it will be a political victory for the president and I hope we'll have the courage of our convictions when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling to fight for what we believe as Republicans, but hats off to the president, he won," Graham said.
FRANCE 24's correspondent in the US, Simon Marks, said “We are led to believe that they’re focusing on a very small deal; this isn’t going to be the big complete package…this is going to be a small deal – if it happens – looking at critical issues.”
Obama has demanded a vote on his fallback plan -- a bare bones effort to save the middle class from a tax hike and to extend unemployment insurance, if no deal is done.
That would leave Republicans with the unpalatable political choice of being seen to block a bid to ease the tax burden on the middle class.
Entangled in divided Washington, where power is shared, Obama and Republicans have feuded for months over what to do about tax cuts for all Americans first passed by ex-president George W. Bush and due to expire on Tuesday.
Obama, sensing a mandate from his re-election last month, wants to raise taxes on the rich but exempt the middle class. Republicans want only to close tax loopholes to raise revenue and demand significant spending cuts in return.
But if nothing is done by the deadline, everyone will get a tax hike.
The president had said on Friday that he was "modestly optimistic" an eleventh hour deal could be done after meeting top congressional leaders at the White House.
But his tone in the interview suggested that if a pact cannot be reached, the president is ready to see the economy go over the fiscal cliff and blame Republicans for the damage likely to be caused.
While each side must for the sake of appearances be seen to be seeking a deal, the easiest way out of the mess might be to allow the economy to go over the cliff, but to fix the problem in the first few days of next year.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)