* Obama's tone draws fire from lawmakers
* President notes he will be in office four more years
* Deal not done, Democrats skeptical
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Dec 31 President Barack Obama, in
remarks that needled Republicans and resembled a victory lap,
said on Monday an agreement with Congress to avoid a "fiscal
cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts was in sight.
The Democratic president appeared at a White House event in
the early afternoon with cheering supporters to press for
lawmakers to complete a deal that would extend tax cuts for the
middle class, raise rates for high earners and extend
unemployment insurance for people seeking work.
"Today it appears that an agreement to prevent this New
Year's tax hike is within sight, but it is not done," Obama
said. "There are still issues left to resolve, but we're hopeful
that Congress can get it done."
Hours later, however, a Democratic aide said skeptical
senators from the president's own party had sought a meeting
with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the deal, and the House
of Representatives appeared unlikely to hold a vote on Monday,
suggesting the country would - at least technically - go over
the cliff anyway.
Obama, who won re-election in November partially on a
promise to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, made a
point of noting in his remarks that the opposing party came
around to his position on raising rates.
"Keep in mind that just last month Republicans in Congress
said they would never agree to raise tax rates on the wealthiest
Americans. Obviously, the agreement that's currently being
discussed would raise those rates and raise them permanently,"
he said to applause.
Obama knocked Congress for waiting to the last minute to
resolve the fiscal cliff problem and expressed, with some
disdain, his regret that a bigger deal was not possible.
"My preference would have been to solve all these problems
in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand
bargain," he said. "But with this Congress, that was obviously a
little too much to hope for at this time."
Obama's words and tone annoyed Republican lawmakers, whose
support he is seeking for the deal to be done.
"I'm disappointed that the president took the eve of what
might be a bipartisan deal to take a swipe at Congress once
again," said Republican Representative Darrell Issa on CNN.
"That's not the way presidents should lead," said Republican
Senator John McCain, Obama's rival in the 2008 election.
Obama had other jabs for Republicans.
While repeating his call for deficit reduction that did not
hurt senior citizens and middle class families, Obama noted
pointedly that he had won the election.
"If we're going to be serious about deficit reduction and
debt reduction, then it's going to have to be a matter of shared
sacrifice - at least as long as I'm president," he said. "And
I'm going to be president for the next four years, I think."
The outlines of a deal in the U.S. Senate include raising
income tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 a
year and households making more than $450,000 a year, but a
sticking point remains on how long to delay automatic spending
cuts to defense and domestic programs, known as a "sequester."
Obama stressed that a deal over spending cuts had to include
tax revenue, echoing pledges he made on the campaign trail.
"Any agreement we have to deal with these automatic spending
cuts that are being threatened for next month, those also have
to be balanced," he said.
"That means that revenues have to be part of the equation in
turning off the sequester, in eliminating these automatic
spending cuts," he said, adding the same would be true for any
future deficit-cutting agreement.