In his first Sunday talk show appearance since 2009, President Obama sat down on Meet the Press to answer host David Gregory’s questions about why Congress is apparently incapable of getting it together to reach a fiscal cliff deal before every single person in America gets hit with a tax hike in two days. (Gregory interrupted his winter break for the chat.) Obama seemed significantly less cranky than he did during his Friday night press statement, when he chided lawmakers for being unable to do their jobs before saying that he was “moderately optimistic” that an agreement could be reached. Still, he did get in many digs with congressional Republicans, who, as he noted, have a lot of “trouble saying yes” to him.
When Gregory asked Obama about why Republicans are so reluctant to use the Y-word, Obama replied, “That’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them…The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me.” He continued:
I offered not only a trillion dollars in — over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.
Gregory then asked if Obama felt that, as president, he was ultimately responsible for breaking the impasse in D.C. Obama maintained that the blame belonged with the Republicans. “David, at a certain point if folks can’t say yes to good offers, then I also have an obligation … to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes.”
He wrapped up the fiscal cliff talk by saying, “One way or another, we’ll get through this,” though that does not necessarily mean that he believes that Congress will reach a compromise within the next 48 hours. He explained that “if all else fails, if Republicans do in fact decide to block [an agreement],” then the first bill introduced to the new Congress on January 4 will be one to cut taxes on middle class families. That way, Republicans will be able to maintain their now 22-year-old refusal to vote for any kind of income tax increase, since they’ll technically be endorsing a tax cut, and people making $250,000 or less won’t be any more upset than usual when April 15 rolls around. Obviously, that route is considerably more frustrating and less efficient than simply coming up with a deal after months and months of discussions, but, as Obama explained, today isn’t really that much different than any other day in D.C.“Do I wish that things were more orderly in Washington and rational and people listened to the best arguments and compromised and operated in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? Absolutely. But when you look at history that’s been the exception rather than the norm.”
Since Gregory had the president’s attention, he also asked him about his second-term plans. Obama said that the shooting in Newtown had inspired him to push for gun control measures, and said that he was “skeptical” about the NRA’s suggestion that the “only answer is putting more guns in schools.” He also expressed frustration at the “politically motivated attack” on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in the aftermath of Benghazi, and said that Chuck Hagel’s recently unearthed thoughts on the capabilities of “openly, aggressively gay” people would not affect his decision on whether to nominate him for Secretary of Defense. “He apologized for it,” Obama said. “And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”