Obama Heckles Congress in Fiscal Cliff Speech

Announcing the outlines of an emerging budget deal, the president kept his tone light.

This time, Barack Obama didn’t face the cameras alone.

It was an almost jaunty president who brought a group of middle-class families to the White House for a televised address in which he declared that a last-minute tax deal was “within sight…but it’s not done.”

The optics were obvious, to show actual Americans who would be hit by a tax hike averaging $2,000 if Congress didn’t salvage a compromise.

The president, perhaps concerned about looking too dour lately, told jokes and bantered with the assembled citizens, which might have struck some onlookers as too frivolous given the stakes.

“I realize the last thing you want to hear on New Year’s Eve is a speech from me,” he said.

It seems that the talks between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have agreed to raise taxes on incomes above $400,000 or $450,000, extend unemployment insurance and limit increases in the estate tax.

But as Obama noted, the tentative package does not deal with deep automatic spending cuts, and that is what is holding up the process. The Democrats want to block those cuts for a year, and the Republicans are balking.

Obama said allowing the cutbacks to go forward would be “using an ax instead of a scalpel,” and he vowed again to protect Medicare and other middle-class programs.

He took a parting jab at Congress, saying it never did anything until the “last second.” The crowd laughed, but that truth hit close to home.