Published December 22, 2012
President Obama and his family arrived Honolulu for a Christmas vacation in Hawaii early Saturday, just hours after he urged congressional leaders to take one last shot at crafting a bill that can prevent tax hikes on middle-class Americans.
The president, who optimistically claimed he would be back "next week" to handle a budget deal, touched down in Air Force One shortly after midnight and left quickly with his family for their vacation home.
Friday's pitch by Obama to jumpstart talks on a deficit-reduction deal came as he and virtually everyone involved were preparing to bolt Washington for the holidays.
House Speaker John Boehner, who until several days ago was Obama's negotiating partner, headed home to Ohio on Friday.
It remained unclear whether they really would return next week to strike a deal.
Time is running short before sweeping tax hikes kick in Jan. 1 -- followed by aggressive automatic spending cuts -- and the two left in their wake a cacophony of recriminations over stalled efforts to avert the looming fiscal crisis and growing doubts about the prospects for compromise.
After a Republican package collapsed in the House the night before, the president said Friday he remained optimistic. "I actually still think we can get it done," Obama said, after meeting briefly with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and speaking separately with Boehner.
Obama specifically called on Congress to pass a bill that extends current tax rates for middle-class Americans, which he typically defines as those making under $250,000. He said such a package should also extend long-term unemployment aid and lay "the groundwork for further work on both growth and deficit reduction."
"That's an achievable goal. That can get done in 10 days," he said, adding he would "immediately" sign it into law before Jan. 1. "It's that simple."
The problem, though, is that Republicans are adamantly opposed to a bill raising taxes on families making over $250,000, claiming it would hurt the economy and particularly small business.
The array of proposals and avenues for a deal all have encountered serious issues.
Talks between Boehner and Obama aimed at crafting a compromise hit a wall earlier this week. The House has resisted the kind of bill that Obama and Senate Democrats are pushing. And the Senate has resisted a Republican bill that would extend current tax rates for everyone.
Adding to the complications, Boehner's "Plan B" to extend current rates for all but those making more than $1 million was pulled from the floor Thursday night after it failed to garner enough Republican support.
Obama said Friday that "nobody can get 100 percent of what they want," as he urged Republicans to come toward him.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said, in response, that "we remain hopeful he is finally ready to get serious about averting the fiscal cliff" and that Boehner would return to Washington after Christmas "ready to find a solution."
But Boehner, while signaling a willingness to resume talks with Obama, also wants the Senate to act first.
On the heels of his "Plan B" tax bill failing the night before, Boehner did not offer any specific proposal Friday. While expressing interest in a broad agreement, he added: "How we get there, God only knows."
As lawmakers peeled away from the Capitol, they delivered their parting shots. Each party was calling on the other to step up with a solution, but the tone was hardly in keeping with the holiday spirit. And it hardly stoked optimism that both sides were working toward an agreement.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed Republicans were "taking food out of the mouths of babies and seniors" with their proposals.
Reid accused Boehner of wasting a week on a "futile political stunt."
Boehner complained that, "at some point, the United States Senate has to do something."
Boehner acknowledged Friday that his "Plan B" did not have enough support to pass. "It's not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House," he said.
He called on Democrats to step up and get serious about spending cuts, noting they control the Senate and White House. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said "we stand ready to continue a dialogue with this president to actually fix the problem."
The reality remains that any package to avert the crisis must pass both chambers. Boehner may be facing the balancing act of his political career. Democrats claimed that without a robust coalition of Republicans behind him, Boehner would have to compromise with them.
But if the speaker goes too far to the left, he could easily lose Republicans.
Boehner's Republican allies were fuming Thursday night at the course of events.
"It's the same 40 chuckleheads that screwed this place up," Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, said, referencing the conservative lawmakers who were opposed to raising tax rates at any level. "(Boehner's) done everything to make nice to them."
During an emergency conference meeting Thursday night, Fox News is told that Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., jumped up and implored members to reconsider. He asked: "Is this the best we can do? Is this the best we can do for John Boehner?"
The House was able to pass a plan Thursday to replace automatic spending cuts set to hit next month. The House bills, though, had been adamantly opposed anyway by Democrats in both chambers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.