By MICHELLE R. SMITH
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation said Monday they were optimistic a deal can be struck to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to start in the new year.
The four members of the state's delegation, all Democrats, told The Associated Press there are signs of progress in Washington after President Barack Obama met with Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday. Still, it could be January before they reach an agreement, although such a deal could be made retroactive, several members said.
"There are some encouraging signs, but nothing definite. It has to be a balanced approach. If the speaker continues to resist any type of revenue increases on upper income Americans, then, just sheer arithmetic, we cannot fill this big deficit," Sen. Jack Reed said. "He's got to step up to the plate."
Reed said he was most concerned about people who are unemployed. Emergency jobless benefits for about 2.1 million people out of work more than six months will cease Dec. 29, and 1 million more will lose them over the next three months if Congress doesn't extend the assistance again.
Reed has been pushing to extend those benefits. He said that in most cases, groups other than the unemployed will be able to manage in the short term, including the defense industry, which faces deep and automatic cuts if no deal is reached.
He also said it was important that any changes to the tax code not to be done at the last minute but done carefully, thoroughly and deliberately.
"It can't be done over a weekend under huge pressure. Because it will be done incorrectly," Reed said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said he believes leaders will reach an agreement, although he said he is not confident it will happen before Jan. 1. Any changes can be made retroactive, he said, adding that he believes the term "fiscal cliff" is somewhat misleading.