President Obama and his wife, Michelle, greet members of the military and… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)
HONOLULU – President Obama will leave for Washington on Wednesday evening to restart talks on averting the "fiscal cliff," the White House said Tuesday, interrupting and perhaps cutting short altogether his traditional holiday visit to his birth state.
Obama’s last contact with congressional leaders was Friday, when he met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and spoke by phone with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). In a statement to reporters before departing for Hawaii, the president called on all parties to use the Christmas holiday period to “cool off,” and he indicated that he would be back in town when Congress reconvenes Thursday.
Obama is scheduled to leave Hawaii at 10 p.m. local time Wednesday, arriving in Washington by midday Thursday.
The U.S. faces a Dec. 31 deadline to forestall automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases brought about by expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax rates and the 2011 budget deal. The broad cuts were triggered by the failure of a congressional “super committee” to identify an alternative deficit-reduction deal.
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Obama and Boehner appeared to be closing in on a solution before the Ohio Republican decided to pursue his so-called Plan B, which would have extended current tax rates for all but households earning at least $1 million a year. Boehner called off a House vote on that proposal after failing to muster enough support among Republicans.
The White House had not publicly stated how long Obama planned to stay in Hawaii this year, but he had traditionally remained through New Year’s Day. The rest of the first family is expected to stay at their rented home near Honolulu even as the president returns to the White House. He could rejoin them if a deal were reached.
Obama has largely been out of the public eye during his four days here, choosing to work out and play golf at a Marine Corps base near the rental home that has been the Obamas’ island retreat over the years. On Sunday, he and the First Lady Michelle Obama attended a memorial service for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) but did not deliver remarks.
On Christmas Day, Obama visited with service members at the Marine base, thanking them and their families for their “extraordinary work and service.”
“So many of you make sacrifices day in and day out on behalf of our freedom, on behalf of our security. And not only do those in uniform make sacrifices, but I think everybody here understands the sacrifices that families make each and every day as well,” Obama told several hundred people at Anderson Hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay.
Obama said the nation is “still in a wartime footing,” pointing to those stationed in Afghanistan and those about to be deployed there.
“You have an entire country behind you,” he said. “All of us understand that we would be nowhere without the extraordinary services you guys provide. And so we want to say thank you. We love you.”
The Obamas did not attend church services this year. On Christmas, they gathered around 8 a.m. to open their gifts. They then ate breakfast and sang carols.
In the evening, the Obama family and friends will enjoy dinner at their home, where they are likely to continue their annual tradition of a talent show.
Michelle Obama explained the ritual on a recent visit to the Children’s National Medical Center.
“Everybody would put some gifts into a bag and you had to take a number, and then you had to do some kind of -- anything. You would sing, dance, tell a joke – anything,” she said. “So everybody in the family would gather around after dinner and we would entertain each other. And we still do that at Christmas.”
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