President Obama briefs reporters at the White House on 'fiscal cliff'… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – President Obama said he was “modestly optimistic” that Senate leaders could reach an agreement to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, but he said that if the effort fails, he’ll demand a vote on his basic proposal to protect middle-class taxpayers from seeing their taxes rise.
Speaking to reporters in the White House on Friday evening, a stern Obama tried to ramp up the pressure on lawmakers as they cobble together a deal before a potentially growth-crippling combination of tax increases and spending cuts take effect in the new year.
“The hour for immediate action is here. It is now,” Obama said.
Obama spoke shortly after meeting with top congressional leaders at the White House, during which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed try to come up with a proposal before the Dec. 31 deadline.
The president called the meeting “good and constructive” and suggested there was still time to reach a compromise. But if lawmakers failed to find common ground, Obama said, he has asked Reid to bring up a vote on a scaled-back version of his original proposal.
“If members of House or the Senate want to vote no, they can,” Obama said. “But we should let everybody vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work.”
Obama’s Plan B would block a tax hike on income of less than $250,000 for couples and extend unemployment insurance for 2 million long-term unemployed. It would also “lay the groundwork” for some long-term economic growth, he said. The White House says such a plan could win a majority of votes in the House and Senate.
It would, however, likely have trouble passing the higher threshold needed for approval in the Senate – 60 votes. And it is unlikely that the Republican-led House would bring it to the floor for a vote.
Still, Obama suggested he was ready to use his bully pulpit to put pressure on Republicans to vote on the bill and cast them as obstructionists threatening economic growth if they do not.
“The American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy,” he said. “Not right now. “
Obama appeared ready to keep the heat on. He is scheduled to appear on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday.