December 31st, 2012
05:15 PM ET
10 months ago

Transcript: Obama's last-minute push on fiscal cliff deal

(CNN) – President Barack Obama said Monday a fiscal cliff deal is "within sight" but added "it's not done."

Read a full transcript of his remarks after the jump.

"Hello, everybody! Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House.

Now, I realize that the last thing you want to hear on New Year's Eve is another speech from me. But I do need to talk about the progress that's being made in Congress today.

For the last few days, leaders in both parties have been working toward an agreement that will prevent a middle class tax hike from hitting 98 percent of all Americans, starting tomorrow. Preventing that tax hike has been my top priority, because the last thing folks like the folks up here on this stage can afford right now is to pay an extra $2,000 in taxes next year. Middle-class families can't afford it. Businesses can't afford it. Our economy can't afford it.

Now, today it appears that an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is within sight, but it's not done. There are still issues left to resolve, but we're hopeful that Congress can get it done. But it's not done.

And so part of the reason that I wanted to speak to all of you here today is to make sure that we emphasize to Congress and that members of both parties understand that all across America, this is a pressing concern on people's minds.

Now, the potential agreement that's being talked about would not only make sure that taxes don't go up on middle-class families, it also would extend tax credits for families with children. It would extend our tuition tax credit that's helped millions of families pay for college. It would extend tax credits for clean energy companies that are creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It would extend unemployment insurance to 2 million Americans who are out there still actively looking for a job.

I have to say that ever since I took office, throughout the campaign, and over the last couple of months, my preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain - whatever you want to call it - that solves our deficit problems in a balanced and responsible way, that doesn't just deal with the taxes but deals with the spending in a balanced way so that we can put all this behind us and just focusing on growing our economy.

But with this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time. (Laughter.) It may be we can do it in stages. We're going to solve this problem instead in several steps.

Last year in 2011, we started reducing the deficit through $1 trillion in spending cuts. Those have already taken place. The agreement being worked on right now would further reduce the deficit by asking the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to pay higher taxes for the first time in two decades, so that would add additional hundreds of billions of dollars to deficit reduction. So that's progress, but we're going to need to do more.

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. (Applause.)

But keep in mind, we're going to still have more work to do. We still have deficits that have to be dealt with. We're still going to have to think about how we put our economy on a long-term trajectory of growth, how we continue to make investments in things like education, things like infrastructure that help our economy grow.

And keep in mind that the threat of tax hikes going up is only one part of this so-called fiscal cliff that everybody has been talking about. What we also have facing us starting tomorrow are automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect. And keep in mind that some of these spending cuts that Congress has said will automatically go into effect have an impact on our Defense Department, but they also have an impact on things like Head Start. And so there are some programs that are scheduled to be cut that we're using an axe instead of a scalpel - may not always be the smartest cuts. And so that is a piece of business that still has to be taken care of.

And I want to make clear that any agreement we have to deal with these automatic spending cuts that are being threatened for next month, those also have to be balanced - because remember, my principle has always been let's do things in a balanced, responsible way. And that means that revenues have to be part of the equation in turning off the sequester, in eliminating these automatic spending cuts, as well as spending cuts.

Now, the same is true for any future deficit agreement. Obviously, we're going to have to do more to reduce our debt and our deficit. I'm willing to do more, but it's going to have to be balanced. We're going to have to do it in a balanced, responsible way.

For example, I'm willing to reduce our government's Medicare bills by finding new ways to reduce the cost of health care in this country. That's something that we all should agree on. We want to make sure that Medicare is there for future generations. But the current trajectory of health care costs is going up so high we've got to find ways to make sure that it's sustainable.

But that kind of reform has to go hand-in-hand with doing some more work to reform our tax code so that wealthy individuals, the biggest corporations can't take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren't available to most of the folks standing up here - aren't available to most Americans. So there's still more work to be done in the tax code to make it fairer, even as we're also looking at how we can strengthen something like Medicare.

Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone - and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we're just going to try to shove only spending cuts down - well - (laughter) - shove spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera - if they think that's going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they've got another thing coming. That's not how it's going to work. We've got to do this in a balanced and responsible way. And 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. And I'm going to be President for the next four years, I think, so - (applause.)

So, anyway, for now, our most immediate priority is to stop taxes going up for middle-class families, starting tomorrow. I think that is a modest goal that we can accomplish. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have to get this done, but they're not there yet. They are close, but they're not there yet. And one thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there's even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do - (laughter) - they will use that last second.

So, as of this point, it looks like I'm going to be spending New Year's here in D.C.

You all are going to be hanging out in D.C., too. (Laughter.) I can come to your house? Is that what you said? (Laughter.) I don't want to spoil the party.

But the people who are with me here today, the people who are watching at home, they need our leaders in Congress to succeed. They need us to all stay focused on them - not on politics, not on special interests. They need to be focused on families, students, grandmas, folks who are out there working really, really hard and are just looking for a fair shot and some reward for that hard work.

They expect our leaders to succeed on their behalf. So do I. And so, keep the pressure on over the next 12 hours or so. Let's see if we can get this thing done.

And I thank you all. And if I don't see you, if I don't show up at your house - (laughter) - I want to wish everybody a Happy New Year. Thank you very much."


Filed under: Fiscal Cliff • President Obama
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Gonzo

    Unbelievable. Leadership is not a quality this man understands. When it's time to ask for the raising of the debt ceiling (once again) we'll see how funny he feels.

    December 31, 2012 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  2. DorisV

    Lock Congress in their chambers until the come up with something to help the middle class and seniors.

    December 31, 2012 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Steve

    Firm leadership that we wanted in the first time finally coming through. Hold strong President Obama, don't let the GOP take your country hostage.

    December 31, 2012 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  4. judy

    the repo party a group of clowns and buffoons. Talk to them about leadership they can't seem to punch their way out of a paper bag.

    December 31, 2012 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  5. FREEDOM

    Arrogant, incompetent, unbelieveable. May God help this country in the new year ahead.

    December 31, 2012 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  6. myviewis

    Obama says ...."now is to pay an extra $2,000 in taxes next year. Middle-class families can't afford it. Businesses can't afford it. Our economy can't afford it."

    Why is Obama saying this when Democrats said throughout the presidential campaign that the country is doing great and that everyone's investments went up??????? Remember, Democrats said finally under Obama all businesses are doing great, the economy is flourishing and people were at the best since Bush left office.

    So why suddently is Obama saying businesses can't afford this tax hike, going back to Clinton taxes??????? Besides, Democrats don't want any tax cuts for employers, job creators.

    December 31, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  7. mysimru

    OMG! This man is the most angry and devisive president we have ever had. Please go after him on Bengazi. We need to impeach him before he ruins this country. If he had been a republican he would be gone already with the press going after him..

    December 31, 2012 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  8. Anthony

    Gonzo, Obama feels fine. Republicans are going to find out that going to the same well again and again does not work. Republicans can propose cutting runaway spending, but their base will be shocked to find out that they are the runaway spending. When Republicans force a default in a couple of months, the government will not be able write checks, including Social Security checks. That is what a default is– the government cannot honor existing obligations because it does not have the authority to write checks. Then the Republican Party will really be dead in 2014.

    December 31, 2012 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    I voted for Obama for campaining that people making over $250K the taxes will go up and not cut programs. I did not vote because he campained taxes will go up for people of $450K. I am really not happy about that.

    December 31, 2012 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  10. Name lynn

    obama its sound great for the people an if the republicans an boehner an the white house leaders dont agree with you just pass the bills without hurting the people

    December 31, 2012 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  11. Frank J

    He is exhibiting leadership by being steadfast in what he set out to do. The American people know what's funny and what's not. What's not funny is Republicans holding out for tax cuts for the very wealthy by reducing the safety net for the poor and needy.

    December 31, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  12. Peggy

    I don't see anything wrong with telling a joke. I like a president who is a little human.

    December 31, 2012 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  13. Truth

    We told everyone he cant lead and that he has no buisness being the president, no one listened now we see the result.., sincerly, the republican party.

    December 31, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  14. Ancient Texan

    This arrogant narcissistic egomaniac is unbelievable! And then he wonders why the loyal opposition has no desire to compromise with him?

    December 31, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  15. JHG

    Really Gonzo this man is probably more of a leader then we have had in a long time! The Republicans are saying that raising taxes on the wealthy will cause big company's to lay off people, not hire people ect. This is hogwash, this is fear mongering.....if the large prosperious companies ( during the Bush years and those tax cuts) had hired people instead of outsourcing the jobs so they could make higher profits and CEO's would have put their profits to good use instead of giving themselves larger salaries THEN the tax cut would have continued. We are a country that is suppose to help each other and we are suppose to do our part to make our country the best in the world, this has been forgotten in one simple word greed. So if we go over the fiscal cliff all of us will suffer and you can thank the people we have elected (with the exception of President Obama ).... they have no idea who the middle class are!

    December 31, 2012 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  16. Dominator

    It is really hard to take him serious! And our liberal media just keeps feeding his hunger for non truth.

    December 31, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  17. karl

    Gonzo – couldn't agree with you more. Obviously O. still does not understand the leadership responsibilities of the role of POTUS. From one perspective, it's sad, from another, it's incredibly maddening, and from another – he's an embarrassment.

    December 31, 2012 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  18. andrez

    I am happy that this REPUBLICAN congressional session is ending!

    It has the lowest approval in history

    This congress is the least productive in 7 decades!

    no blaming Obama! go get em bo! Semper Fi

    December 31, 2012 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  19. Dave B.

    President Obama understands leadership but it's sad that the Republican Party only believes in passing legislation to benefit the rich! The Republicans believe clearly in leading through obstruction and special interests groups points of views! These are bills from the Bush Error that have come to past and the American People are having to pay the tab.

    December 31, 2012 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  20. Steve

    Agreed Gonzo, for some reason, Obama seems to think it is them (Congress) vs. him. The problem with this is that HE should be on the field, participating and leading...not sitting on the sideline taking cheap pot shots at Congress. Classic narcissistic behavior, especially at a time when this Country needs its elected POTUS. Embarrassing...and pathetic.

    December 31, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  21. Icon

    Gonzo, he understands it just fine. You seem to not know what the word means. The Tea Party and extreme Right of this country has done NOTHING for four years but obstruct everything. Obama has shown remarkable leadership and patience dealing with a gaggle of petulant children.

    December 31, 2012 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  22. Stating the obvious

    Gonzo, let's think about that. He doesn't understand leadership? Among other things, he ended the ill-advised war in Iraq, he got the Affordable Care Act passed, he ended DADT, he won reelection handily and helped increase his party's ranks in both houses of Congress, and he is winning the so-called "fiscal cliff" debate in Congress and in the minds of the public. Sounds like effective leadership to me.

    December 31, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  23. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It would have been nice if the Congress would have gotten together right after the elections were completed to sort this out. There is so much to do they could have started based on what went during the presidential campaign. This is not to say that the president is blameless in this. He could have had a louder voice in this and talked to members of Congress earlier.

    @Gonzo - It isn't just the president that is supposed to do something. Boehner could have made proposal that came closer to the president. I guess that he doesn't have the balls enough to keep his caucus together.

    December 31, 2012 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  24. Thomas More

    The taxes do not solve anything...debt needs to be reduced and Obama is holding the 98% hostage because he is a hater....

    January 1, 2013 12:22 am at 12:22 am |