Washington: US President Barack Obama appeared "modestly optimistic" after meeting top Congressional leaders and urged them take immediate measures to address the looming fiscal cliff before the December 31 midnight deadline, in absence of which the nation faces the prospect of another economic recession.
"I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved. Nobody is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but let's make sure that middle-class families and the American economy -- and, in fact, the world economy -- aren't adversely impacted because people can't do their jobs," Obama told reporters at the White House following his hour-long consultations with the top Congressional leaders on Friday.
"We're now at the point where, in just four days, every American's tax rates are scheduled to go up by law. Every American's paycheck will get considerably smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy, it would be bad for middle-class families, and it would be bad for businesses that depend on family spending.
"Fortunately, Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now," he said.
Obama cut short his Hawaii vacation and returned to Washington on Thursday, leaving the First Lady and the two daughters behind, in his last ditch effort to avoid the nation hitting a fiscal cliff.
But as of yesterday, not much visible progress were seen despite his meeting with Congressional leaders and some behind the scene hectic paralysis, which were expected to continue over the weekend.
"I just had a good and constructive discussion here at the White House with Senate and House leadership about how to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," he said.
The Senate Majority leader, Harry Reid, and the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, were working on such an agreement, he noted.
"But if an agreement isn't reached in time between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, then I will urge Senator Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote -- one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to two million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction," Obama said.
"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote.
"If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can -- but we should let everybody vote. That's the way this is supposed to work. If you can get a majority in the House and you can get a majority in the Senate, then we should be able to pass a bill," he said.
Obama said American people are watching all this and their patience is already thin.
"This is deja vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town, for some reason, you can't get stuff done in an organised timetable; why everything always has to wait until the last minute.
"Well, we're now at the last minute, and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now," he said in his brief remarks to the press.
Obama said the economy is growing, but sustaining that trend is going to require elected officials to do their jobs.
"The housing market is recovering, but that could be impacted if folks are seeing smaller paychecks. The unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since 2008, but already you're seeing businesses and consumers starting to hold back because of the dysfunction that they see in Washington," he said.
"Economists, business leaders all think that we're poised to grow in 2013 -- as long as politics in Washington don't get in the way of America's progress," he added.
First Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012, 09:41