President Obama is "modestly optimistic" that an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff can be reached before the budget deadline hits on January 1.
Obama gave brief remarks in a press conference after meeting with House and Senate leaders from both parties which he called constructive, announcing that he's tasked Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell with devising a bipartisan plan that could be passed by both chambers of Congress.
He pressed the importance of that deal. "I still want to get this done," he said, stressing the impact it would have on families and businesses.
"The hour for immediate action is here. It is now," he said.
But should action not be taken, he has a back-up plan.
The president said he has directed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring a scaled-down version of his original plan for an up-or-down vote if no broader deal can be reached. This "basic package" would include measures to block middle class tax rates from going up, protect unemployment insurance and "lay the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction," according to the president.
He stressed his belief that such a plan could pass both houses, but only if leaders allow it to come to a vote.
Obama also expressed his dismay over the last minute nature of the deal-making process. "The American people are watching what we do here. Obviously their patience is already thin," he said.
His own patience seems to have thinned as well, refusing to put his full faith in Congress's ability to come up with a full package deal. "Given how things have been working in this town, we always have to wait and see until it actually happens," he said, adding that "Ordinary folks do their jobs. They meet deadlines." He said Americans find it "mind-boggling" that our elected leaders can't do the same thing. In a not-so-veiled threat to Republicans (whom polls show would be the ones largely blamed if Washington failed to agree on a deal), Obama said that "the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy."