Obama says he's confident a grand bargain can be reached

Alan Diaz/AP

President Obama is doubling down on optimism that he and Congress will be able to quickly handle the nation's vexing fiscal problems.

Obama told the Des Moines Register that he thinks a grand bargain with Republicans on long-term deficit reduction is achievable and predicted it could happen by the middle of next year if he is re-elected. He told the newspaper, "we're going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business."

"It will probably be messy. It won't be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain," Obama added. Republicans, he predicted, will ultimately accept his long-standing offer to enact 2.5 times more spending cuts than increases.

The bruising battles that Obama had with congressional Republicans in 2011 have left many in Washington far less optimistic about the prospects for a broad budget deal. Obama tried in a series of talks with House Speaker John Boehner to reach a grand bargain but the discussions fell apart. In the aftermath, the partisan rancor only worsened.

In a debate on Monday night, Obama also seemed confident about the prospects for heading off the tax hikes and automatic spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. During the face-off with rival Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama said that sequestration "will not happen."

Critics said that comment might have cost Obama some leverage with Republicans. Aiming to pressure congressional Republicans to give ground on the Democrats' call for allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to rise on the wealthiest Americans, prominent Democrats have signaled a willingness to jump off the cliff rather than approve a continuation of the high-income tax cuts.

In his comments during the debate, the president was reiterating a long-held position, White House spokesman Jay Carney said after the debate. Sequestration was "designed and passed by Congress" and was never meant to become policy, he said.

Some congressional Republicans, including Boehner, R-Ohio, have said Congress's post-election lame-duck session is not the time to tackle such a big problems. Meanwhile, some Democrats, including the Senate's third-ranking Democrat Chuck Schumer, N.Y., have voiced optimism that a deal could be reached in the final two months of the year.

Obama's Tuesday comments to the Des Moines Register were originally off the record, but a transcript was made public by the White House on Wednesday after the newspaper's editor pressed for permission to make them public. 

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