Pelosi ‘optimistic’ on deal, praises Boehner as ‘well-intentioned’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she saw progress in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and was “optimistic” a deal could be struck before year’s end.

Speaking on CBS’s “This Morning," the top House Democrat said she disagreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) assessment that it would be “extremely difficult” for Washington to reach an accord before Christmas.  

“I’m more optimistic than that,” Pelosi said. She also expressed confidence in Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “I do think that Mr. Boehner is a well-intentioned person. He knows what the risk is … you cannot be frivolous about it; just get it done.”

Pelosi’s comments come as signs emerged Tuesday that both sides were inching closer to an agreement.

The two sides exchanged offers following a face-to-face meeting Sunday between President Obama and Boehner, with sources telling The Hill the White House had lowered its request for additional tax revenue, which has been the primary sticking point for Republicans.

Obama and Boehner also spoke on the phone Tuesday evening.

Pelosi acknowledged that not all aspects of the negotiations may be completed before the New Year, but said once the sides agree in principle, a “down payment” on a plan could set the stage for bigger deals next year.

“It needs to be clear, we’re talking about two stages — the Speaker suggested two stages,” she said. 

Pelosi suggested that entitlement and tax code reforms, two Republican priorities, might need to wait until after the holidays for lawmakers to hammer out details.

“Let’s do something significant now and then in the next stage we can address further entitlement review, reform, as well as reform of the tax code. You can’t do all of that in a two- or three-week period, but you can set the stage because we care more about saving the entitlements than the Republicans do, so we do want to reform them.”

Her remarks mirror those made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a press conference on Tuesday.

“Tax reform obviously can’t be done by the end of the year,” McConnell had said. “That’s going to take awhile.”

Republicans have said they will consider new tax revenues in a deficit-reduction deal, but insist that Democrats put entitlement reform on the table. Many Democratic lawmakers, though, have said they will oppose all benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

Pelosi on Wednesday also left the president some wiggle room on entitlement reform, saying the only “red line” for her was raising the Medicare age, which she said wouldn’t address the deficit and was merely a “trophy” for Republicans to show their supporters.

But Pelosi also drew a line on spending cuts, arguing that if you go beyond $1.6 trillion, “pretty soon you have the blueprint for a second-rate nation.”