By Justin Sink - 12/21/12 10:53 PM EST
President Barack Obama urged urged congressional leaders to consider a scaled-back plan to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" as he headed to Hawaii for his annual Christmas vacation.
The president said that legislators should pass legislation on points where there was consensus — including extending Bush-era tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of taxpayers, extending unemployment insurance and laying "the groundwork" for future deficit reduction.
"That's an achievable goal that can get done in 10 days," Obama said.
The plan, as described by the president, would leave unresolved issues like the looming defense sequester, income rates on the wealthiest taxpayers, and the debt ceiling. The president said he was still open to a larger deficit deal, but underscored that he would need Republican support to reach a compromise.
"We're only going to be able to do it together," Obama said. "We're going to have to find some common ground."
The president and first family will be staying at a resort on Oahu and are expected to return to Washington on Wednesday.
"Because we didn’t get this done, I’ll see you next week," Obama said.
The president added he hoped legislators would use the break to "cool off."
"As we leave town for a few days to be with our families, it will give us some perspective," Obama said, joking that lawmakers should "drink some egg nog, [and] have some Christmas cookies."
Before the press conference, the president met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the White House and spoke with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by telephone.
“Senator Reid fully agrees with President Obama," said an aide to the majority leader. "He believes Republicans should return to the negotiating table and work with Democrats to forge an agreement that avoids the fiscal cliff altogether."
But as a "fallback," Reid believes "Republicans should support passing a bill that extends tax cuts for families up to $250,000, extends unemployment insurance, and delays the so-called sequester while we negotiate additional policies next year," the aide said.
Boehner's office quickly issued a statement challenging Obama's assertion he has offered a "balanced" package, but indicating that the Republican leader was prepared to return to Washington to continue negotiations after the holiday.
“Though the President has failed to offer any solution that passes the test of balance, we remain hopeful he is finally ready to get serious about averting the fiscal cliff," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. "The House has already acted to stop all of the looming tax hikes and replace the automatic defense cuts. It is time for the Democratic-run Senate to act, and that is what the Speaker told the President tonight. Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress.”
During a Capitol Hill press conference earlier on Friday, Boehner insisted he was not abandoning negotiations.
"Listen, I'm interested in solving the major problems that face our country," Boehner said. "And that means House leaders, Senate leaders and the president are going to continue to have to work together to address those concerns."
But Boehner said he did not know how negotiators would bridge a gap on an eventual debt deal, saying that significant differences remained.
"How we get there, God only knows," Boehner said. "But, all I [know] is that [House Majority Leader] Eric [Cantor (R-Va.] and I, and our team here are committed to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol, and the White House, to address this."
The Speaker and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plan to stay in Washington over the weekend, although Congress will be out of session until after the Christmas holiday. Reid plans to travel to Hawaii for the funeral of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), but will return to Washington on Monday.
- Bernie Becker contributed
Updated at 6:30 p.m.