With the deadline for negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff looming in the backdrop, the president took to NBC's "Meet the Press" to defend his efforts to find common ground. He noted that he had moved off his initial demands for revenue (once $1.6 trillion, now $1.2 trillion), agreed to entitlement reforms (reduced Social Security benefits) and already signed hefty spending cuts ($1 trillion as part of the Budget Control Act in 2011). For all that, he added, he was still waiting for Republicans to come closer to halfway.
"We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers," said the president, according to an advance transcript of the interview with host David Gregory. Obama added later, "[S]o far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it's been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package."
The tone was tougher than usual from the president. In the past, he's been hesitant to directly rebuke congressional Republicans, choosing instead to attack the legislative body as a whole.
But the last few weeks of negotiations have clearly frustrated both him and his staff. White House aides were particularly piqued at Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for shelving negotiations over a larger fiscal cliff deal in pursuit of a tax-rate-only option. That ended the legislative progress in the House and forced the Senate to pick up talks. With just days before tax rates rise on all income levels and $1 trillion in decadelong spending cuts go into effect, Senate leaders met on Saturday to find a way through the impasse. One knowledgeable aide said a deal didn’t look likely as of Saturday afternoon. A Republican aide said it would be impossible to know for sure until Sunday afternoon, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will brief their respective caucuses.
Even as they talked, preparations were being made to manage the public relations fallout over failure to meet the deadline. Part of that involved the president hitting the Sunday talk show circuit, where he urged the press not to resort to false equivalencies when assigning blame.
The only thing I would caution against, David, is I think this notion of, "Well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to cooperate." And that's just not true. I mean if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the Democratic Party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first.
And to try to work with everybody involved to make sure that we've got an economy [that] grows. Make sure that it works for everybody. Make sure that we're keeping the country safe. And does the Democratic Party still have some knee-jerk ideological positions and are there some folks in the Democratic Party who sometimes aren't reasonable? Of course. That's true of every political party.
But generally if you look at how I've tried to govern over the last four years and how I'll continue to try to govern, I'm not driven by some ideological agenda. I am a pretty practical guy. And I just want to make sure that things work. And one of the nice things about never having another election again, I will never campaign again, is I think you can rest assured that all I care about is making sure that I leave behind an America that is stronger, more prosperous, more stable, more secure than it was when I came into office.
UPDATE: 11:04 a.m. -- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on ABC's "This Week," said he thought a fiscal cliff deal would come together after Jan. 3, when Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is safely reelected speaker. "I am hopeful in the new year, after Speaker Boehner is elected -- reelected -- and he doesn't have to worry about those 50 [members of the Tea Party faction], that he will start working in a way like the Senate works, which is Democrats and Republicans together," said Schumer.
Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), speaking on "Fox News Sunday," indicated that the scaled-down agreement coming together Sunday in the Senate would likely include extensions of tax credits for business and research and development, as well as measures to stave off an automatic cut in Medicare reimbursement rates and to block the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of Americans.
As for the president's pointing the finger at the GOP, David Brooks, the somewhat conservative New York Times columnist, backed up Obama, mostly, on "Meet the Press."
"Most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans," Brooks said. "They've had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don't know what they want. They haven't decided what they want."