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Obama Meets With Congressional Leaders On Fiscal Cliff

Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Ari Shapiro about efforts to prevent the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes due to take effect at the beginning of the year.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Here in Washington, D.C., in the late afternoon half-light, congressional leaders left a meeting at the White House. They met with President Obama for about an hour in hopes of finding a last-minute deal to avert the fiscal cliff. Some of those lawmakers spoke then to reporters on Capitol Hill, while the president made a statement in the White House briefing room. If a deal is not reached, taxes will go up on everyone and deep spending cuts will begin taking effect on Tuesday. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from the White House. Hi there, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So to start, what can you tell us about what happened at this meeting?

SHAPIRO: It has left the action in the Senate. President Obama in this meeting asked Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to come up with a plan that the Senate can vote on this weekend. And he said if they cannot agree on such a plan, he wants an up-or-down vote in the Senate on his proposal from last week which would extend unemployment benefits and also extend tax cut for income up to $250,000. This was the president in the White House briefing room just after the meeting.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote. If members of the Senate or the House want to vote no, they can, but we should let everybody vote. That's the way this is supposed to work.

SHAPIRO: Now Audie, that would mean no filibuster, which is a condition Republicans are unlikely to agree to. I should tell you, in this statement, the president sounded really annoyed. He said the American people cannot understand why Washington is so dysfunctional. He called it deja-vu all over again. It was clear he wasn't psyched about being where we are today.

CORNISH: What are you hearing from the Capitol?

SHAPIRO: Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the next 24 hours will be instructive. He said he is hopeful, but on other conditions he's been hopeful and his confidence has been destroyed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke on the Senate floor. Here's part of what he said.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader and myself and the White House, in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference, and the majority leader can make to his conference. And so we'll be working hard to see if we can try and get there in the next 24 hours. And so I'm hopeful and optimistic.

SHAPIRO: And Audie, both the House and Senate will be back in session Sunday. The House has votes scheduled for that evening. The big question now is whether the Senate will have passed anything by then that the House can actually vote on.

CORNISH: At the same time, some people are feeling that both sides have sort of accepted that the deadline could pass without getting a deal. And I want to talk about why either side would allow that to happen. Republicans are so opposed to tax hikes. I mean, why would they let taxes go up on everyone on January 1?

SHAPIRO: Frankly, because after January 1 they can vote to lower taxes on people, instead of before January 1 voting to raise taxes on wealthy people. Also, on January 3, House Speaker John Boehner gets reelected as speaker. If he presides over a painful deal before then, his speakership could be in jeopardy. After January 3 his leadership position is a bit safer.

CORNISH: And for Democrats?

SHAPIRO: Well, President Obama has won two elections on a promise to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. It's been an unchanging part of his message, so he believe it's what the American people voted for when they chose him for reelection. And frankly, poll numbers seem to bear that out. A majority of Americans say they'd blame Republicans over Democrats if the country blows through this deadline. President Obama's approval rating has been climbing steadily. He's around 55 percent right now, which is a three-year high. And the GOP's approval numbers have been dropping. The day after Christmas, Gallup released a survey in which Democratic congressional leaders had 45 percent approval of their handling of the budget stand-off, Republican leaders had 26 percent approval. That's almost a 20 point difference. So Democrats believe the American people are on their side, and that makes them less willing to go along with what they see as unreasonable demands from Republicans.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro at the White House. Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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