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A Month Away, Fiscal Deadline Looms With No Deal

Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's Tamara Keith about the latest developments in the federal budget negotiations and the impending package of tax increases and spending cuts that are set to automatically go into effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1, 2013.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Rachel Martin. The deadline is coming, and yet another week has passed with no apparent signs of a breakthrough in the country's fiscal budget negotiations. If Washington misses the January 1st deadline, then the government goes on autopilot with a package of automatic spending cuts and tax increases. Both parties say they don't want that to happen. But based on public statements, it looks like the talks between the White House and Republicans in Congress are stuck. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House told "Fox News Sunday" that the White House has given Republicans a serious offer.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: They won the election, they must have forgotten that Republicans continue to hold the majority in the House. But, you know, the president's idea of a negotiation is roll over and do what I ask.

MARTIN: To keep us posted on the latest, we've called up NPR's Tamara Keith. Good morning, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So, have negotiations really gone so badly? What's happening?

KEITH: Well, you know, negotiations always look stuck before they start moving again. And, you know, it's not clear if we're one of those stages, where it has to look really angry and then something breaks through and you get a deal. Last week on Thursday, the Obama administration brought a proposal to both leaders in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans. Democrats came out of those meetings excited. They were like, yeah, we're totally on the same page. And Republicans were basically livid.

MARTIN: OK. So, why? What was happening that they came out of there with such two different opinions?

KEITH: Well, you know, it's not entirely clear that this thing was an offer. It may well have just been a statement of where the White House stands, in which case that would have made Democrats happy. Because this proposal was very similar to his budget from months ago. It contains $1.6 trillion in new revenue, mostly through tax increases on the wealthy, $400 billion in cuts, some stimulus spending. The president even wants the power to raise the debt ceiling without getting congressional approval first.

MARTIN: What do they want? What would actually move them to support a compromise?

KEITH: Well, what they say is that they want the president to come to them with an offer they like. They want more spending cuts. They want changes to entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, and they don't want at least tax rate increases on the wealthy. In the past, the president has often come to Republicans with a compromise. This time, he came with a mindset, hey, this is a negotiation. I'm not negotiating with myself. This is what I want. And Democrats are now saying they're waiting for the Republicans to counter.

MARTIN: OK. So, have they? Have the Republicans offered specifics in a counteroffer?

KEITH: Not really. You know, they say they want entitlement reforms, but when the speaker was asked about what reforms he wanted or what the timing would be, he basically said how about the House GOP budget? In some ways, it seems like both sides are waiting for the other guys to make the first concession. And this time in negotiations the president has an advantage. Because if everything expires, then he mostly gets what he wants and then he'd be in the position in January of coming to Congress asking them to lower taxes on most people, and that's a much easier sell.

MARTIN: The intrepid Tamara Keith keeping tabs on Congress while combating a nasty cold. Tamara, thanks so much.

KEITH: Thanks for putting up with my voice. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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