Leaders of Congress on Friday said that they felt confident a deal could be reached with President Barack Obama to avert the fast-approaching “fiscal cliff,” a combination of across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013.
"I believe that we can do this," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said after meeting with the president at the White House.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed these sentiments.
"We understand our responsibility," said Pelosi (D-Calif). "I feel confident that a solution may be in sight."
The president said the goal was to prevent a tax hike for middle-class families, create jobs, and keep the economy growing.
"That's an agenda that Democrats and Republicans and independents, people all across the country share," Obama said. "So our challenge is to make sure that we are able to cooperate together, work together, find some common ground.”
Rep. Boehner said he put forward a plan that meets Obama's goals of "balance."
"To show our seriousness, we've put (tax) revenue on the table, as long as it's accompanied by significant spending cuts," the House Speaker said. Sen. McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed but said his members believe too much spending, not too little taxing, is the problem.
Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) said any deal will not come down to the end of December.
"There is no more, ‘Let's do it some other time,’” said Sen. Reid. “We're going to do it now. We feel very comfortable with each other."
Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and top White House advisers also took part in the Roosevelt Room meeting.
Said Obama: "My hope is that this is going to be the beginning of a fruitful process."
So far, a plan to avoid the cliff exists only in the broadest sense, with Republicans saying they won’t agree to tax increases without significant spending cuts, and Democrats saying they won’t agree to spending cuts without an increase in tax revenues.
None of the lawmakers made any mention of a big sticking point -- the president’s insistence that tax rates go up, as scheduled, at the start of the year for individuals making over $200,000 a year and families earning over $250,000.
Republicans flatly oppose that proposal.
However, it’s important to note that the bargaining landscape has shifted markedly in the president’s favor since his 2011 faceoff with House Republicans over raising the debt-ceiling.
Then, the president squared off against a tea party-driven House over the government's desire to borrow more money so as to avoid a market-crunching first-ever default on its debt obligations. Now newly re-elected, President Obama is putting Republicans on notice that he's willing to mount a national campaign blaming them for holding up renewed tax cuts for most with an ultimatum against renewing them for top income earners.
Final Thought: Depending on your level of cynicism, this unusual show of bipartisanship is either a sign that gridlock in Washington has finally come to an end or that one party is simply caving to the other.
Oh, also, it’s worth pointing out that the actual “fiscal cliff” negotiations will be carried on by White House staff members and not by the president. President Obama heads off to Asia on Saturday.
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The Associated Press contributed to this story. All photos courtesy the AP.