President Obama expressed confidence in an interview broadcast Sunday morning that lawmakers can prevent taxes from going up for most Americans, either by striking a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" before Jan. 1, or by returning immediately with a renewed effort in the new Congress if no deal is reached.
"One way or another, we'll get through this," Obama said in an interview on NBC News's "Meet The Press." "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."
Obama repeated his call from Friday for Senate leaders to reach an agreement on a deal to prevent middle-class tax rates from rising. Failing that, he said, Senate Democrats will introduce their own bill, and Republicans will have to decide if they want to block it.
"If Republicans do in fact decide to block it, so that taxes on middle class families do in fact go up on January 1st, then we'll come back with a new Congress on January 4th and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle class families," Obama said. "And I don't think the average person's going to say, 'Gosh, you know, that's a really partisan agenda on the part of either the president or Democrats in Congress.' I think people will say, 'That makes sense, because that's what the economy needs right now.'"
Republicans, Obama said, "have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers" in the negotiations. Don Stewart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman, responded to Obama's interview by calling the president's remarks "discordant."
Obama's input came as Senate leaders worked into Saturday night to try to strike a deal to avert automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that are set to kick in early next year. They set a deadline of 3 p.m. Sunday for striking a deal. One major point of contention in the talks is how many wealthy households should face higher income taxes.
Congressional Republicans have also called for significant entitlement program changes as the "fiscal cliff" talks have moved forward. Obama said on "Meet The Press" that he intends to act to preserve Medicare and Social Security for the future, but isn't willing to have seniors carry the entire weight of lowering the nation's deficit.
"What I'm not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I'm not willing to do," Obama said.
When asked by "Meet The Press" host David Gregory if he was going to commit in the first year of his second term to getting specific reform done, Obama responded that he was not, adding, "That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach."