(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Susan Davis and David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- President Obama said he remains hopeful Congress will reach a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff," but he reiterated his call for a vote on his plan to extend middle class tax rates if Congress fails.
"Now the pressure's on Congress to produce," Obama said Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press. It was the president's first appearance on the show since 2009.
Congress reconvenes Sunday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been tasked with finding a legislative path to head off the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will not take up a bill unless the Senate can p
ass it first. So far, partisan gridlock has left Washington unable to bridge the two parties' philosophical differences on taxes. The president has called for an extension of the current George W. Bush era rates for everyone earning $250,000 or less, which affects about 98% of earners.
Republicans, particularly in the House, have resisted any proposal that allows tax rates to rise, including a failed effort by Boehner to pass a bill that protected the current tax rates for earners making less than $1 million. Republicans want more spending cuts, particularly from costly entitlement programs like Medicare, which Democrats have been unwilling to cede.
If Congress is unable to send him a proposal, Obama said he will insist Congress vote on his own, scaled-back plan to extend tax rates and expiring unemployment insurance benefits affecting 2.1 million Americans. Reid said Friday that if he and McConnell can't come to terms on an agreement, he would bring Obama's proposal to the floor on Monday.
"If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff," Obama said. "It avoids the worst outcomes. And we're then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs."
Obama granted the Meet The Press interview in part to pressure Congress - particularly the Republicans - into signing off on a fiscal cliff agreement. NBC taped the interview at the White House on Saturday afternoon.
The president said he has put up fair offers to the Republicans in the past - "they have had trouble saying yes" -- and made clear he would blame the GOP if taxes rise while the government falls over the cliff.
"If Republicans don't like it, they can vote no," Obama said. "But I actually think that there's a majority support for making sure that middle class families are held harmless."
Managing the fiscal cliff is essential to improving the economy, Obama said. The nation is poised to improve economic growth in 2013, he said, "but what's been holding us back is the dysfunction here in Washington."