WASHINGTON -- With hours remaining to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama said a deal is “within sight” and urged lawmakers to come together to avert automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that kick in on Tuesday.
But his midday press conference, with a group of middle-class Americans looking on, was not without a bit of bravado as well. Obama took multiple shots at Congress for its clumsiness in negotiations and insisted that he'd demand more tax hikes if the legislative body used the impending debt ceiling standoff to demand spending cuts.
In the process, the president irked several Republican aides, who suggested that the entire fiscal cliff deal had been complicated because of his tone and criticism.
“Potus just moved the goalpost again. Significantly. This is new,” tweeted a top aide to McConnell.
Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), tweeted, “If Obama's goal was to harm the process and make going over the cliff more likely, he's succeeding.” Another Cantor spokesperson said, “So....I'm confused....does POTUS want a deal or not? Because all those jabs at Congress certainly sounded like a smack in the face to me."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the president "sent a message of confrontation" to Republicans, who could be voting on a deal in the next 24 hours. "I'm not sure ... whether to be angry or to be saddened," he added.
A source close to House Republican leadership went even further, telling HuffPost that the lower chamber was in revolt over Obama's remarks and that the deal could blow up because of them.
To what extent these statements are bluster will be determined once the bill comes up for a vote. The president noted that "an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is within sight," but added that "it's not done."
Before he spoke, The Huffington Post reported on details of a preliminary deal from negotiations between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden that would achieve $715 billion in revenue.
Under the framework, the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended permanently for individuals at $400,000 and joint filers at $450,000. A second Senate Democratic source familiar with the state of play confirmed those details. The top rate on ordinary income would go back to 39.6 percent and raise an estimated $370 billion in revenue over 10 years.
The same thresholds would be applied for capital gains and dividends, with the top rates in that case going up to 20 percent -- a concession to Republicans (the rate on dividends was set to return to 39.6 percent) but not far from the president's position during the campaign.
Though the president did not get into specifics, he noted that the agreement that was currently under discussion would permanently raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
Both parties are still arguing over how to deal with the $1.2 trillion in sequestration-related cuts that will be triggered on Jan. 1. The president sent a strong message to Republicans that replacing those automatic cuts must be done in a balanced way and not through spending cuts alone.
“If Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction, through spending cuts alone -- and you hear that sometimes coming from them -- sort of, after today we're just going to try to shove only spending cuts down, you know, well -- shove spending -- shove spending cuts at us, that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists ... if they think that's going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, they have another thing coming,” Obama said.
Obama added that his preference has been to solve the country’s problems through a grand bargain, "but with this Congress that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time."