WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether negotiated in a rush before the new year or left for early January, the fiscal deal President Barack Obama and Congress cobble together will be far smaller than what they initially envisioned as an alternative to purposefully distasteful tax increases and spending cuts.
Instead, their deal, if a deal they indeed cut, will put off some big decisions about tax and entitlement changes and leave other deadlines in place that will likely lead to similar moments of brinkmanship, some in just a matter of weeks.
Republican and Democratic negotiators in the Senate were hoping for a deal as early as Sunday on what threshold to set for increased tax rates, whether to keep current inheritance tax rates and exemptions and how to pay for jobless benefits and avoid cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Senate leaders were hoping to be able to present their members with a plan when the parties meet separately on Capitol Hill Sunday afternoon.
An agreement would halt automatic across-the-board tax increases for virtually every American and perhaps temporarily put off some steep spending cuts in defense and domestic programs.
Obama pressed lawmakers to start where both sides say they agree — sparing middle-class families from looming tax hikes.
"If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes. And we're then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs," Obama said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that aired Sunday.
Gone, however, is the talk of a grand deal that would tackle broad spending and revenue demands and set the nation on a course to lower deficits. Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner were once a couple hundred billion dollars apart of a deal that would have reduced the deficit by more than $2 trillion over ten years.
Republicans have complained that Obama has demanded too much in tax revenue and hasn't proposed sufficient cuts or savings in the nation's massive health care programs.
Obama upped the pressure on Republicans to negotiate a fiscal deal, arguing that GOP leaders have rejected his past attempts to strike a bigger and more comprehensive bargain.
"The offers that I've made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me," Obama said.
Boehner disagreed, saying Sunday that the president had been unwilling to agree to anything "that would require him to stand up to his own party."
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, said Sunday: "While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution."
Attention Sunday focused on the Senate, where Kentucky's McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., engaged in negotiations in the Capitol in hopes of having something to present senators.
"I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," Obama said, referring to his mood Friday. "And now the pressure's on Congress to produce."
The trimmed ambitions of today are a far cry from the upbeat bipartisan rhetoric of just six weeks ago, when the leadership of Congress went to the White House to set the stage for negotiations to come.
"I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending," Boehner said as the leaders gathered on the White House driveway on Nov. 16.