With the fiscal cliff deadline looming, a clearly peeved President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon that it was time for Congress to get its act together.
While the president said he had a constructive meeting with congressional leaders and was “modestly optimistic” that a package preventing middle-class tax increases and extending unemployment benefits will pass both chambers by the Dec. 31 deadline, he also lectured Congress on its repeated failure to reach agreements before the last minute — a situation he called “mind-boggling” to most Americans.
“The American people are watching what we do here,” the president said. “Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is deja vu all over again.”
Obama said that outside Washington, “nobody understands how it is that this seems to be a repeat pattern over and over again. Ordinary folks, they do their jobs, they meet deadlines,” he said.
“The notion that our elected leadership can’t do the same thing is mind-boggling to them. It needs to stop.”
Obama’s re-election hasn’t yielded the bipartisan breakthrough he had hoped for, but the president said he still wants to set the stage for dealing with the deficit and economic growth next year.
“We’ve got to get this done. ... It shouldn’t be that hard,” he said, considering that all parties agree that the middle class should not pay higher income taxes.
Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continue to work on a bipartisan deal to avert the cliff, Obama said he asked Reid to put a basic bill on the floor if no agreement is reached. That bill would, at a minimum, extend middle-class tax relief, extend unemployment benefits and set the stage for additional action next year.
“We should let everybody vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work,” he said.
Obama will keep up the pressure over the weekend. He’s scheduled to appear Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.