As a compromise to avert the fiscal cliff began to take shape on New Year's Eve, President Obama did not race to the Capitol to try to nudge sharply divided lawmakers toward a deal. Instead, he held court at the White House, addressing a group of supporters and praising Congress for its work to try to spare the middle class from a tax hike. But he didn't shy away from needling Republicans--and from warning that he would not accept future spending cuts that did not meet his test of "balance."
“Today it appears that an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is within sight, but it's not done,” Obama said, backed by 14 smartly-dressed people identified as "middle-class Americans" at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the West Wing of the White House. Obama urged Congress to think of the men and women standing behind him, not of politics, in their budget negotiations.
Republicans in Congress have expressed frustration with Obama’s communications strategy, saying he’s more eager to complain about Congress from a podium than to work with Congress to find legislative solutions. In what pundits have dubbed Obama's "outside game," the president has held a series of events both in Washington and in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan to take his message directly to the American public.
When "cliff" talks stalled on Sunday between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, McConnell called in Vice President Joe Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran who has become known as a "closer" for the White House. As the talks went down to the wire, it was Biden who took the lead on the inside game for the White House.
In his remarks on Monday, Obama criticized Republicans for their failure to compromise with him on a larger deficit-reduction plan and their apparently newfound flexibility on upper-income taxes.
“Keep in mind, just last month Republicans in Congress said they would never agree to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans," the president said. "Obviously, the agreement that's currently being discussed would raise those rates and raise them permanently."
If passed by the House and Senate, the deal would prevent a tax increase on middle-class families and extend certain tax credits, including tax credits for families with children, Obama said. It would also extend unemployment insurance.
The president also pushed back on Republican calls for steeper spending cuts. Any broad budget agreement must include a mix of spending cuts and tax-revenue increases, he said.
“If Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone,” Obama warned, they're wrong. "That's not what's going to work," he said.