President Obama speaks on ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON – President Obama urged Republican congressional leaders to view recent national tragedies as inspiration to abandon partisan bickering and work together on a major deal to get the government's fiscal affairs in order.
Obama said he is "puzzled" that Republicans have abandoned negotiations aimed at avoiding the "fiscal cliff" and coming up with a broader plan to reduce the deficit.
Just days after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama said the past week’s events should “give us some perspective about what’s important.”
It’s time for lawmakers to “peel off the partisan war paint,” Obama said, and work on the deal he said is just inches from completion.
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“It is a significant achievement for them,” Obama said of the offer he put on the table for Republicans to consider. “They just keep finding ways to say no."
The appeal came in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Aides put it together late last night, as Obama’s work with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on a deficit reduction plan seemed to stall.
Obama appeared in the White House briefing room with Vice President Joe Biden to announce that Biden will head up a task force to come up with a plan to prevent mass shootings like the one at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Within a month, the president said, his administration will unveil a comprehensive set of initiatives to combat gun violence and immediately begin pushing them.
The news conference quickly turned to the topic of the fiscal cliff, and the state of talks to head off the automatic tax hikes and draconian spending cuts that take effect at the end of the year.
Obama linked the subject matter together, suggesting that the sense of shock and mourning over the Newtown tragedy should help elected officials put politics aside.
Politics have interrupted the deficit talks over the last 72 hours. Although the two sides are only a few hundred billion dollars apart on an agreement, House Republicans this week have turned to passage of a back-up plan in case the bigger deal falls through.
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White House officials say the focus on Boehner’s “Plan B” has taken the energy out of the speaker’s talks with the president. The two sides haven’t had a substantive conversation since Monday, aides to the president say.
Obama advisors worry now that there isn’t time for the back-up plan to get its vote and for the leaders to then turn back to full-scale negotiations.
As he expressed frustration with the stagnant talks, Obama turned to recent national crises, such as Superstorm Sandy and the shooting.
If lawmakers would put politics aside and take care of business, he said, it would “allow us to focus” on other matters, like how to solve the problem of gun violence.
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