In the latest twist of the "fiscal cliff" saga, President Obama today seemingly spiked the football before crossing the goal line, applauding a deal that hasn't been finalized and raising the ire of some Republicans who accused him of moving the goalposts. To top things off, he took the opportunity to rib Congress for their dysfunction - a curious move at a time when it's their votes the president should be seeking, not their criticism.
Standing before a group of middle-class taxpayers at the White House, Mr. Obama chipperly announced that "it appears an agreement...is in sight" over the so-called "fiscal cliff."
Negotiations over the "cliff," the series of tax hikes and spending cuts that kick in next year, are going on behind closed doors, primarily between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden -- not Mr. Obama. The two sides appear close to reaching some kind of deal. But even as he acknowledged their progress, the president today ribbed Congress for their dysfunction.
"My preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain, whatever you want to call it... But with this Congress that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time," Mr. Obama said, prompting laughter from his White House-approved audience of middle class Americans. Later in his remarks, Mr. Obama joked, "One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there is even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do, they will use that last second."
The president's big talk today may have set back the negotiations, some Republican lawmakers immediately complained.
"What did the president of the United States just do? Well, he kind of made fun, he made a couple of jokes... sent a message of confrontation to the Republicans," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- a senator with an obviously contentious history with Mr. Obama. "I guess I have to wonder," he continued, "and I think the American people have to wonder, whether the president really wants this issue resolved, or is it to his short-term political benefit for us to go over the cliff?"
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor. "I was very disappointed to hear what the president just had to say in front of a pep rally - something very unbecoming of where we are at this moment... I know the president has fun heckling Congress. I think he lost, probably, numbers of votes with what he did - he didn't lose mine; I'm not that way, I'm gonna look at the substance. But it's unfortunate that he doesn't spend as much time working on solving problems as he does with campaigns and pep rallies."
Corker wasn't just angry about Mr. Obama's jabs at the legislative branch -- he was angry about Mr. Obama's insistence today that part of the "fiscal cliff" known as the "sequester" (which consists of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years) should be replaced with both more strategic spending cuts and new revenue.
"I want to make clear that any agreement we have to deal with these automatic spending cuts that are being threatened for next month, those also have to be balanced," the president said today, "because, remember, my principle always has been let's do things in a balanced, responsible way. And that means the revenues have to be part of the equation in turning off the sequester and eliminating these automatic spending cuts, as well as spending cuts."
Corker retorted today, "I just want to go on record here on the Senate floor - I know there are negotiations taking place - but the sequester was to be dealt with, substituted with other spending reductions, not through revenues."
One Republican aide told CBS News that after weeks of asking Congress to simply deal with extending the Bush-era tax rates for middle-class Americans, the president was shifting the goalposts by pressuring Congress over the sequester spending cuts.
The president's remarks were certainly unexpected but were far from the only questionable move in negotiations so far leading some to ask what's going through the minds of the nation's leaders as the country's economic future hangs in the balance?
Days before Christmas, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, showed his weak hand in negotiations when he called an audible and introduced a "Plan B" to solve the "fiscal cliff" - a plan that failed to garner his caucus' support and was ultimately scrapped.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, raised eyebrows 36 hours before the "cliff" deadline Sunday when he slow-walked negotiations, prompting McConnell to seek out Biden's help.
While Mr. Obama's remarks may have ruffled some feathers, McConnell soon after took to the Senate floor to apparently try and smooth things over.
"As the President just said, the most important piece, the piece that has to be done now, is preventing the tax hikes," McConnell said in a conciliatory manner. "He said, 'for now our most immediate priority is to stop taxes going up for middle class families starting tomorrow.' He suggested that action on the sequester is something we can continue to work on in the coming months. So I agree, let's pass the tax relief portion now."