An upbeat President Obama signaled that Congress was "within sight" of reaching a deal on the fiscal cliff slated to hit once the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, as a patchwork of details continue to surface on how Congress plans to move forward with negotiations.
"Today it appears that an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is within sight, but it's not done," Obama said Monday. "There are still issues left to resolve."
The president was flanked by 14 middle-class Americans, a common backdrop to his outings pitching his tax plan, in what was reminiscent of a campaign event full of supporters. Obama started out his event with smiles and an upbeat tone as he took jokes from the crowd, charming the audience with his New Years Eve plans.
"We're hopeful that Congress can get it done, but it's not done," Obama said of a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.
He was light on specifics on the deal, easing up on the pressure he applied on the Republican leadership during a rare Meet the Press interview Sunday.
Meanwhile, NBC News reports that lawmakers have agreed to set the tax hike threshold at $400,000 for individual earners, and $450,000 for couples. The figures are up from Obama's initial offer of $250,000, and the latest Republican proposal for $550,000. Income tax rates will increase to their Clinton-era levels of 39.6%, White House officials confirm. Aides also indicate that lawmakers have agreed on a compromise on the estate tax, raising the rate from 35% to 40%, with an exemption to estates valued at $5 million.
Aides told NBC News that the major sticking points in the deal is over the sequestration timeline--Democrats are calling for a two-year delay while Republicans are requesting the next round of deadlines to be within three months.
"If there's even one second left before you have to do what you have to do, they will use that one second," Obama said in his conference.
Many GOP lawmakers took to Twitter to condemn Obama's speech as counterproductive. The president's former election opponent, Sen. John McCain, told reporters that he's not sure whether to be angry or saddened by the event.
The #POTUS just set negotiations back by about 80 percent which really isn't all that much if you consider where they were #FiscalCliff— Billy Long (@auctnr1) December 31, 2012
How in the world does the Prez believe this is helpful? Give me a break. He wants more taxes AND more spending. How does that help us?— Rep. Bill Huizenga (@RepHuizenga) December 31, 2012