November 30th, 2010
12:19 PM ET
WASHINGTON - CNN has learned that President Obama is privately considering at least a short delay to the start of his holiday vacation in Hawaii in order to try to work out a deal with Congressional Republicans on the Bush tax cuts that expire Dec. 31.
Two senior administration officials tell CNN the White House has been getting signals that the lame duck session of Congress could drag on past Saturday Dec. 18 when the President was scheduled to depart for Hawaii and that Obama has privately said he is willing to stay in Washington until Christmas Eve if necessary in order to finish the contentious debate over taxes.
But senior Republican aides scoffed at the idea that a tax cut deal could not be worked out before Dec. 17, suggesting that perhaps the White House talk of a vacation delay may just be a negotiating ploy to push Republicans into a quick compromise since they have vacations waiting for them as well.
"There is absolutely no need for that," a senior Republican aide said of a possible delay in an end to the lame-duck session. "Once they make a decision, it's done in a couple days. I hope it doesn't take the Democrats until Christmas to make up their minds."
At issue is whether the current tax rates should be extended for just middle-class families earning $250,000 or under per year, or whether they should be extended to include wealthy Americans earning above $250,000 a year.
Back in the midterm election, Republicans hammered the message that failing to extend the Bush tax rates for wealthy Americans would result in a tax hike that will hamper the already-slow economic recovery. Obama staked out the position that only the middle class tax rates should be extended because extending tax cuts will result in a huge drain on the federal treasury.
"The last thing we can afford to do right now is raise taxes on middle-class families," Obama said at an event in Kokomo, Indiana on Nov. 23. "If we allow these taxes to go up, the result would be that a lot of people most likely would spend less, and that means that the economy would grow less. So we ought to resolve this issue in the next couple of weeks so you've got the assurance that your taxes won't go up when that clock strikes midnight."
The President and his aides have also signaled since the election that he is potentially open to a compromise on a short term one-year or two-year extension on the tax rates for the wealthy if the tax rates for the middle class are permanently extended.
But in remarks on the Senate floor before Tuesday's summit meeting at the White House, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) took a hard line in suggesting that his party will only accept extending all of the tax rates, including those for the rich, without caveats.
"We've heard a lot of chatter here in Washington lately about the negotiations that are expected to take place on this looming tax hike in the weeks ahead - on how to prevent it," McConnell said. "How about we start with this: the beginning and end of any negotiations shouldn't be what's good for any political party. It should be what's good for the economy and for the American people. And if we leave the politics aside, if we look at the facts, the answer here is simple: no tax hikes on anybody - period."
If Obama stays in Washington until Christmas Eve that would be a repeat of what he did in 2009 after another contentious battle in Congress. The President stayed in Washington until Dec. 24, 2009, when the Senate finally passed health care reform legislation. It was only then that Obama and his family finally left for Hawaii a few hours later.
The President, First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters are traveling to his home state of Hawaii for their annual holiday vacation that will span until the beginning of January.