WASHINGTON — Optimistic despite a tightening deadline, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he and House Speaker John Boehner are pretty close to a grand fiscal deal to avoid a first-of-the-year shock to the economy, but that congressional Republicans keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes.
Obama cast a resolution to the fiscal cliff as a matter of political will. He said in the aftermath of the massacre of school children in Connecticut, the nation deserves a compromise by its political leaders.
If this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective, he said. And he urged lawmakers to peel off the partisan war paint and strike a deal.
His comments came shortly after the White House threatened to veto Boehner's backup plan for averting the fiscal cliff. Boehner's measure, a so-called Plan B, would block tax increases from being triggered Jan. 1 on everyone but those whose incomes exceed $1 million.
Boehner is planning a House vote on his proposal today, hoping it would raise pressure on Obama to make concessions as both sides continue reaching for a bipartisan deal on averting the fiscal cliff. Without an agreement among lawmakers, broad tax increases on nearly all taxpayers and budget-wide spending cuts will be triggered in early January.
Boehner, R-Ohio, responded to Obama with a defiant tone. In an appearance before reporters that lasted under a minute, Boehner called on Obama to offer a deficit-cutting plan balanced between spending cuts and tax increases and predicted that the House would pass his backup plan.
Obama's offer to limit the growth of Social Security benefits would cost the average retiree less than $50 in the first year. But the cuts would grow over time, and that has advocates for seniors worried that Democrats in Congress will break their promise to shield the massive retirement and disability program from cuts in deficit reduction talks.
Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pledged not to touch Social Security as part of negotiations to avoid the year-end fiscal cliff. Reid, however, is backpedaling now that Obama and Boehner have agreed to a new measure of inflation that would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, for Social Security and other government programs.