By Amie Parnes - 12/30/12 06:19 PM EST
President Obama said Sunday that the "pressure is on Congress" to reach a compromise and resolve the "fiscal cliff,” sharply criticizing GOP leaders for the unresolved talks.
In an interview with NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday, his first appearance there since the healthcare debate in 2009, Obama seemed intent on putting the blame solely on congressional Republicans if lawmakers fail to meet the pivotal year-end deadline.
Obama said GOP negotiators have "had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers."
"If we're serious about deficit reduction, we should make sure that the wealthier are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long-term trajectory of growth," Obama said, sitting in the White House's Blue Room for the interview, which was recorded on Saturday.
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Obama said while he was "modestly optimistic" after meeting with lawmakers on Friday, "we don't yet see an agreement. And now the pressure's on Congress to produce.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted Obama’s remarks and said the president should “lead, not cast blame,” as negotiators continued work on a compromise.
In a statement following Obama's interview, Boehner called the comments "ironic," saying that Obama had shown an "unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party,” during the talks.
"In an effort to get the president to agree to cut spending — which is the problem — I put revenues on the table last year, and I put them on the table again last month," Boehner said. "Republicans made every effort to reach the 'balanced' deficit agreement that the president promised the American people, while the president has continued to insist on a package dramatically in favor of higher taxes that would destroy jobs."
At the very least, if lawmakers are unable to produce a comprehensive package on deficit reductions, Obama said he has asked them to focus on a scaled-back plan to "make sure that people's taxes don't go up" and that extends unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.
“If they don't, what I've said is that in the Senate we should go ahead and introduce legislation that would make sure middle-class taxes stay where they are and there should be an up-or-down vote," said Obama. "Everybody should have a right to vote on that. If Republicans don't like it, they can vote no. But I actually think that there's a majority support for making sure that middle-class families are held harmless."
If a deal is not struck, Senate Democrats are likely to introduce a bill extending the Bush-era rates for income earners below $250,000, but it is uncertain whether enough House Republicans would support that measure.
Asked by moderator David Gregory how going over the cliff would impact the financial markets, Obama said businesses and investors "are going to feel more negative about the economy" in 2013.
Obama blamed the "dysfunction" in Washington for drawing out the ongoing fiscal crisis.
"If people start seeing that on Jan. 1 this problem still hasn't been solved, that we haven't seen the kind of deficit reduction that we could have had had the Republicans been willing to take the deal that I gave them, if they say that people's taxes have gone up, which means consumer spending is going to be depressed, then obviously that's going to have an adverse reaction in the markets," he said.
Asked by Gregory about whether automatic spending cuts have to be part of the deal struck by lawmakers, Obama said if revenue is raised by the wealthiest paying "a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off" the automatic spending cuts. Obama said that would result in a "better outcome" for the economy in the long term.
But in the interview, time and again, Obama put the blame on Republicans for the inaction on the fiscal crisis.
"So far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done," Obama said. "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."
Obama would not accept some of the responsibility for the stalemate, saying he has a track record of cutting spending by over $1 trillion in 2011.
"I campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way, in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle class taxes low," he said. "I put forward a very specific proposal to do that. I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue.
“I think anybody objectively who's looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans," said Obama.
A McConnell aide fired back on Sunday at Obama's comments.
"While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together," the aide said.
— Updated at 1:19 p.m.