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Talks On 'Fiscal Cliff' Remain Deadlocked

In just about four weeks, your taxes are going to go up and stay there unless President Obama and Congress can compromise. They have to agree on a set of spending cuts and tax increases or the U.S. will hit what has become known as the "fiscal cliff." That's the end-of-the-year deadline when automatic cuts start and tax breaks end.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, no matter what you want to call it, in just about four weeks, your taxes are slated to go up and stay up, unless President Obama and Congress can compromise. Let's get into some of the politics of this with Cokie Roberts. She joins us, as she does most Mondays.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Well, at the end of Wade Goodwyn's piece, there he's talking about a Republican and a Democrat in Dallas who are coming together. That is not happening in Washington right now.

ROBERTS: No, it's not happening in Washington.

GREENE: I mean, President Obama makes an offer on the fiscal cliff, and Republicans immediately dismiss it and say he wasn't serious. I mean, was he serious?

ROBERTS: Well, he was serious in terms of an opening offer, but certainly, it's not where they're going to up. Like, what he put on the table was $1.6 trillion in new taxes, $400-billion cut in Medicare, and 50 billion new stimulus money, plus the power for the president to deal with debt ceiling, taking that away from Congress.

Obviously, that's not going to happen. But it's kind of let the bargaining begin, you know. We're in the bizarre now. But House Speaker John Boehner said that it was laughable, but Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner went on five - count them, five - television programs yesterday, and was very firm. He said the president ran on taxing the wealthy, that the current tax rates will cost a trillion dollars over 10 years, that we can't keep those up, and that the taxes on the wealthy are just going to go up.

Now, it's true, David, that the exit polls show that 80 percent of Obama voters are for raising taxes on the wealthy. So the president feels like he's on firm ground, here.

GREENE: Well, firm ground, I mean, you really get the sense that Democrats think they have Republicans on the ropes on this issue and, you know, can really do anything they want and not get hurt. I mean, is that a fair read of what Democrats are thinking right now?

ROBERTS: Yeah, I think it is. Now, look, the Democrats can always blow it. It wouldn't be the first time. But really, both sides seem to think that the Republicans will be blamed, as do the American people, according to the polls, if the fiscal cliff is jumped over. And interesting, a National Journal poll of insiders of members of Congress also shows that Republicans think that they have more to lose if they don't get it done.

Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, has come up with a solution where he says, look, just pass tax cuts for everyone but the top 2 percent, because otherwise, it looks like Republicans are ready to put the economy in danger just to protect the richest Americans. And that's obviously not a position that really works very well for them politically.

So far, Cole's proposal has not been accepted by his caucus. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is proposing exactly the same thing: just pass tax cuts for everybody but the top 2 percent, and she says she going to try to bring that to the floor through what's called a discharge petition. That's not likely to happen. But so that's the way the battle lines are drawn, is over the very wealthiest Americans. And that's not a particularly winning position for Republicans to be in.

GREENE: I mean, you've covered so many standoffs in Congress, Cokie. Where do you see this going? Quick prediction?

ROBERTS: You know, I always tend to think that they're going to kind of come to some agreement before disaster happens, but in recent years, that's been harder to come by than it usually is. But we'll see. I was heartened yesterday to hear members of Congress thinking that we're going to get to some agreement. So if they think so, maybe we will.

GREENE: And briefly, Cokie, another search for agreement: Susan Rice, potential nominee for - to be Secretary of State, that the president's trying to fill places in his national security team. I mean, Congress, the White House not getting along here, either.

ROBERTS: No, that's true. And Ambassador Rice went to the Hill and seems to have not made any new friends on her visits to the Hill, where she was defending her statements about the attacks on the Libyan mission in Benghazi. But the president has to fill CIA, defense and state, and so that's a very important set of issues. The one name you do hear is Chuck Hagel, former Republican Senator from Nebraska. That would be a very popular choice for any one of those three.

GREENE: Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays. It is always a pleasure to be with you. Thank you, Cokie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you can hear Cokie Roberts most Mondays right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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