A day after efforts to avert the fiscal cliff collapsed, President Obama said Friday that he again asked Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to work out a deal on middle-class tax cuts and unemployment benefits that would prevent taxes for most Americans going up on Jan. 1.
"That's an achievable goal that can get done in 10 days," Mr. Obama said at the White House. "Everybody's got to give a little bit in a sensible way. We move forward together, or we don't move forward at all."
The president spoke Friday to Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, whose "Plan B" for a tax increase only on people earning $1 million or more fell apart Thursday night when most House GOP lawmakers rejected it. The speaker was forced to cancel a vote on the proposal.
That development ended any hopes of reaching an agreement before Christmas. Minutes after Mr. Obama spoke, the White House announced that Mr. Obama and his family would fly to Hawaii Friday evening for their annual Christmas vacation. Lawmakers also were leaving town Friday, with the expectation of returning to Washington on Dec. 27 for further talks.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner have been negotiating for weeks on a solution to avoid the tax increases and automatic spending cuts that are to take effect Jan. 1-2. The president's latest proposal included increasing tax rates on families earning more than $400,000 per year, but many Republican lawmakers are rejecting any increase in tax rates for any income level.
Mr. Boehner said earlier Friday that Mr. Obama has yet to propose enough spending cuts.
"What the president has proposed so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem," he said.
Although the negotiations are still stuck on the question of tax rates, the president said he's still optimistic that both sides can reach an agreement that becomes law before Jan. 1.
"Call me a hopeless optimist, but I actually still think we can get it done," Mr. Obama said. "The challenge we've got right now is that the American people are a lot more sensible, and a lot more thoughtful, and much more willing to compromise, and give, and sacrifice, and act responsibly, than their elected representatives are. That's a problem."
The president said he hopes that the holiday break will give negotiators "perspective."
"Everybody can cool off, everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones," Mr. Obama said, adding that he wants lawmakers to "think about the obligations of people who sent us here."
"Just as our economy is really starting to recover .... now is not the time for more self-inflicted wounds," he said.
After Mr. Obama spoke, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said the speaker stands ready to negotiate after Christmas.
"Though the president has failed to offer any solution that passes the test of balance, we remain hopeful he is finally ready to get serious about averting the fiscal cliff," Mr. Buck said. "The House has already acted to stop all of the looming tax hikes and replace the automatic defense cuts. It is time for the Democratic-run Senate to act, and that is what the speaker told the president tonight. Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress."
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