Obama lampoons Congress but says a deal is ‘in sight’

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Obama with middle class Americans. ()
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President Obama said an agreement on the fiscal cliff is "in sight," at an afternoon appearance inside a White House auditorium packed with a few dozen rowdy specators billed as middle class Americans.

"It appears an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is in sight," Obama said. "But it's not done."

Obama said his preference would have been for a bigger deal that included more, "but with this Congress that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time."

The president lampooned Congress for its ability to push deals to the deadline, saying they wouldn't agree "if there's even one second before you have to do what you're supposed to do."

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He also warned that he would push for tax increases beyond whatever might be included in today's deal. “If Republicans think I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone...they’ve got another thing coming," he said. "That’s not how it’s going to work.”

Republicans immediately took to Twitter, and to the floor of the Senate, to denounce the speech as pandering and unhelpful—suggesting Obama might have even scuttled a potential deal—though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell subsequently said the two sides were "very, very close to an agreement."

McConnell has been working furiously with Vice President Joe Biden on a deal that reportedly includes tax increases for couples that make over $450,000 per year, along with increases in the capital gains rate and the estate tax. But the spending cuts and potential changes to entitlements remain unclear.

The event itself was punctuated with frequent cheers from the crowd, and one apparent offer from the crowd to host the president, after he said he would be spending New Year's Eve in Washington.

"I can come to your house?" he said to someone in the crowd, with a laugh. "I wouldn't want to ruin the party."