WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2012 — -- Invoking the somber aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., President Obama today appealed to congressional Republicans to embrace a standing "fair deal" on taxes and spending that would avert the fiscal cliff in 13 days.
"If there's one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what's important," Obama said at a midday news conference.
"I would like to think that members of that [Republican] caucus would say to themselves, 'You know what? We disagree with the president on a whole bunch of things,'" he said. "'But right now what the country needs is for us to compromise.'"
House Speaker John Boehner's response: "Get serious."
Boehner announced at a 52-second news conference that the House will vote Thursday to approve a "plan B" to a broad White House deal -- and authorize simply extending current tax rates for people earning less than $1 million a year and little more.
"Then, the president will have a decision to make," the Ohio Republican said. "He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he could be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history."
Unless Congress acts by Dec. 31, every American will face higher income tax rates and government programs will get hit with deep automatic cuts starting in 2013.
Obama and Boehner have been inching closer to a deal on tax hikes and spending cuts to help reduce the deficit. But they have not yet had a breakthrough on a deal.
Obama's latest plan would raise $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue over 10 years, largely through higher tax rates on incomes above $400,000. He also proposes roughly $930 billion in spending cuts, including new limits on entitlement spending, such as slower annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries.
Boehner has agreed to $1 trillion in new tax revenue, with a tax rate hike for households earning over $1 million. He is seeking more than $1 trillion in spending cuts, with significant changes to Medicare and Social Security.
The president said today that he remains "optimistic" about reaching a broad compromise by Christmas because both sides are "pretty close," a sentiment that has been publicly shared by Boehner.
But the speaker's backup plan has, at least temporarily, stymied talks, with no reported contact between the sides since Monday.
"The speaker should return to the negotiating table with the president because if he does I firmly believe we can have an agreement before Christmas," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a White House ally.
Schumer said Obama and Boehner are "not that far apart" in the negotiations.
"If they were to come to an agreement by Friday, they could write this stuff over the Christmas break and then we'd have to come back before the New Year and pass it," Schumer said.
Obama said he is "open to conversations" and planned to reach out to congressional leaders over the next few days to try to nudge Republicans to accept a "fair deal."
"At some point, there's got to be, I think, a recognition on the part of my Republican friends that -- you know, take the deal," he told reporters.
"They keep on finding ways to say no, as opposed to finding ways to say yes," Obama added. "At some point, you know, they've got take me out of it and think about their voters and think about what's best for the country."