'This Week' Transcript: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

this_week_geithner_120412

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Compromise or combat?

REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE SPEAKER: There is a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Creeping up on that fiscal cliff.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-VA., MAJORITY LEADER: This is not a game. That offer yesterday was simply not serious.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As private talks seem to collapse, President Obama cranks up the public heat.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress does nothing, you'll see your taxes go up on January 1st, that's a Scrooge Christmas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which side will blink? Or will cliffside cripple the economy? We'll ask our headliner, the president's point man, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Plus, Susan Rice hits a Senate buzzsaw.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM R-S.C.: The concerns I have are greater today than they were before.

OBAMA: Susan Rice is extraordinary.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But does President Obama want a fight over his secretary of state?

And did Obama and Romney really bury the hatchet at that Oval Office lunch?

All that and the rest of the week's politics on our powerhouse roundtable with Republican Congressman Tom Cole and Keith Ellison for the Democrats. Former Romney adviser Dan Senor. Former Obama auto czar Steven Rattner, and ABC's own Cokie Roberts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. Washington back to work this week, but with just 30 days to go until America hits the fiscal cliff that could mean a tax increase for everyone, there is no signs that Congress and the White House are anywhere close to a deal.

So let's get right to where this is all headed with the president's top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Thanks for joining us again, Mr. Secretary.

It sure sounds like those meetings you had on Capitol Hill this week did not go very well. Senator Mitch McConnell told the Weekly Standard that he burst into laughter when he heard your proposal, and we just heard Speaker of the House John Boehner said, let's not kid ourselves, there's a stalemate.

So is there a stalemate, and did Mitch McConnell really laugh out loud when you heard your proposal?

GEITHNER: George, I actually think we're going to get there. I mean, you know, just inevitably going to a little bit of political theater in this context. Sometimes that's a sign of progress. I think we're actually making a little big of progress, but we're still some distance apart.

But you know, what's at stake here is very important. What we're trying to do is not just prevent a tax increase on 98 percent of Americans -- and there is no reason why we can't do that -- but we're trying to go beyond that and make sure we're doing something that's going to be good for the long-term future of the American economy. And I think we have a chance to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you're getting closer. They say you're getting much farther apart. They say this is not even a serious proposal. It was a proposal designed to fail.

GEITHNER: We have a very good plan, a very good mix of tax reforms that raise a modest amount of revenue on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, combined with very comprehensive, very well designed, very detailed savings that get us back to the point where our debt is stable and sustainable. And we -- if we can do that carefully, we can create some room to invest in things that make America stronger, like rebuilding America's infrastructure, helping Americans refinance their mortgages, some careful tax incentives for business investments. We think those are good investments in America, and we think we can afford them. And we should do that as part of a deal like this. That's what we think makes sense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's look at an outline of what the Republicans said they heard in the meeting, your offer. $1.6 trillion in tax increases over the next ten years. $50 billion in stimulus spending right now. $400 billion in unspecified Medicare cuts over the next 10 years, and then permanent authority to increase the debt limit. The president wants that authority. They look at that $1.6 trillion in revenue and say it's twice as much as you get from raising taxes on the wealthy, again, and much more than Democrats would ever accept in the Senate. That's why they say this is not serious.

GEITHNER: Let me tell you what we propose what we think makes sense, and let me start with part of what you said, which is how to make sure we're lifting the threat of default over the American economy, over the credit (ph) of the United States, over the savings of Americans. What we propose is to take an idea that Senator McConnell proposed last in December of 2011 and just extend that. And what that does is, again, lift the cloud of default over the economy, because the president has to (inaudible) propose an increase in the debt limit, and Congress then has a chance to express his view to disapprove that. And it was a very smart way by a senator with impeccable Republican credentials, to, again, lift this threat, this periodic threat of default from the American economy, and that's what--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: He said he never intended it to be permanent.

GEITHNER: But, again, it was a good idea then, it's a good idea going forward. And again, it came from him. It wasn't our idea. It makes a lot of sense.

Now, what you said there was not quite right is, what we laid out for them is a detailed, comprehensive set of $600 billion of reforms in health programs, other government programs over ten years, which are going to be tough, but that we think that make sense.

They don't like all of those changes. They might want to go beyond that, might want to do some different things, but they have to tell us what those things are.

Now, you're right on the revenue side. We're proposing to let rates go back up to the Clinton levels on 2 percent of Americans. Again, now is a very good time for the American economy. We can -- that would be a good thing to do, sensible economic policy, and we want to combine that with tax reforms that will limit deductions for the top 2 percent of Americans. There's no surprise in this. We have been proposing this for a very long time. The president campaigned on it, and I think that's where we're going to end up. And I think there's going to be very broad support from the business community and from the American people for an agreement with roughly that shape.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And when you talk about limiting the deductions, there have been proposals from Governor Romney during the presidential campaigns, from other Republicans, to also limit deductions to maybe $25,000 cap on deductions. When you talk about those limitations on deductions, do you include the charitable deduction and the home mortgage deduction?

GEITHNER: Well, I think you're right to point out the essential problem in this, which is that if you try to limit deductions like you say with a $25,000 cap, what you do is you end up hitting millions and millions -- actually 17 million middle-class Americans. A huge part of the revenue comes that basic fact, which we do not prefer to do. It completely eliminates the incentives for relatively wealthy Americans to give to charities. We don't think that makes sense. And if you protect charitable contributions, you lose a huge amount of additional revenue. So those proposals, they may be worth considering, but if you design them carefully, they don't raise anything close to the type of revenue you need to get us back to a fiscally responsible position.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you mentioned charitable -- are you saying now the charitable deductions should be off the table?

GEITHNER: What we propose -- and we think it's a better way to do it -- which is we propose a percentage limit on the value of all deductions and exclusions for 2 percent of Americans. And what that does is, it preserves a very significant economic incentive, financial incentives for Americans to give to charities. And of course that's very important to all universities across America, all hospitals, and millions and millions of nonprofit entities across the country that depend on those giving, and we think that's a better way to do it. That slightly reduces the marginal benefit of the deduction, but it preserves a substantial incentive to give to charity. We think that's a better way to do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think one of the things that Republicans want to know if the president is still behind ideas that he has seemed to back in the past, for example gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare, this adjustment in Social Security payments and so-called chained CPI, which would adjust the cost of living adjustments over time for people on Social Security. Is the president still behind those ideas?

GEITHNER: There is a lot of ideas out there, George, from Democrats and Republicans about things we can do to help strengthen Medicare and strengthen Social Security. And what I can do is to tell you the merits of the specific things we proposed, which, again, are very substantial savings over ten years, $600 billion, billions of dollars. And when Republicans come to us and say, we would like to do something different or beyond that, we'll take a look at how to do that. If it meets our basic values and our test, then we'll give it serious consideration.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're even willing to consider new restrictions on Social Security, because people like --

GEITHNER: No. I didn't say that. Let me clarify that. Thank you for asking me that.

What the president is willing to do is work with Democrats and Republicans to strengthen Social Security for future generations. So Americans can approach retirement with dignity and with the confidence they can retire with a modest guaranteed benefit. But we think you have to do that in a separate process, so that our seniors aren't -- don't face the concern that we're somehow going to find savings in Social Security benefits to help reduce the other deficits.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So to be clear, that is one thing that is clearly off the table. Social Security is off the table in these negotiations.

GEITHNER: We are prepared to, in a separate process, look at how to strengthen Social Security, but not as part of a process to reduce the other deficits the country faces.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, so that sounds like a yes to that, that question. On the issue of taxes, is there any flexibility in the president's position? Does it have to go all the way back, the tax rates on the wealthy, all the way back to the Clinton rates? Or is there some kind of formula below the Clinton rates that is still tax rate hike that the president can accept?

GEITHNER: Again, George, we think the best way to do this, and this is what we have proposed, is have those tax rates go back to where they were at one of the best, most prosperous times in recent American economic history, and then to combine that with reforms that limit deductions for the top 2 percent of Americans. We think that's the best way to do that. I'm deeply skeptical, deeply skeptical about ways to get through this without that mix of rates and reforms.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And if Congress does not agree to have those rates go up, you're comfortable with the idea of going over that cliff on January 1st?

GEITHNER: There's a huge amount at stake in this (inaudible), and there is just no reason why 98 percent of Americans have to see their taxes go up because some members of Congress on the Republican side want to block tax rate increases for 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans.

Remember, those tax rates, those tax cuts cost $1 trillion over ten years. There's no responsible way we can govern this country at a time of enormous threat, and risk, and challenge, uncertainty, millions of Americans retiring, huge levels of poverty, inequality, huge under-investment in education and infrastructure, with those low rates in place for future generations. Those rates are going to have to go up. That's an essential part of --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, a lot of Democrats think if the Republicans do indeed dig in on those tax rates, it's far preferable to go over the cliff than to reach a different kind of deal? Do you agree?

GEITHNER: I don't think that's going to happen. It certainly doesn't need to happen, and we're going to work very hard to make sure it doesn't happen. And what we're going to try to do is, again, not just protect the vast bulk of Americans from that kind of tax increase and the other damage that would come from the fiscal cliff, but we're going to do something good for the long-term of the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What would happen to the economy if we do go over the cliff?

GEITHNER: It would be very damaging to average Americans. There's no doubt about it. But there's no reason why it has to happen. And again, we're going to work very hard to prevent it. And the only reason that would happen, again, is if a small group of members of Congress decide they're going to block an agreement because they're not prepared to see tax rates rise modestly for just 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, I hear you say you're going to work very hard, but boy, you listen to every Republican coming out of the meetings with you this week, they say you're going backwards, not forwards. So what is the specific next step to get this back on track? Is the president ready to meet face to face with the speaker, face to face with the Republican leader in the Senate to try to nail this down?

GEITHNER: Of course he is. And we'll do that when it makes sense. At this point, though, you've got to recognize that they're in a very difficult place. And they recognize they're going to have to move in a bunch of things, but they don't know really how to do it yet and how to get support for the members on the Republican side. And so, what we're going to do is to continue to look for ways we can solve this problem. But ultimately, they have to come to us and tell us what they think they need. What we can't do is to keep guessing about what --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the ball is in their court?

GEITHNER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And they understand that. And when they come back to us and say, we would like you to consider this, and we'd like you to consider that, we'll take a look at that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, one final question. This is your last assignment for the president, wrapping up these negotiations. So, how much longer you think you're going to be staying? And also, it was interesting to see this week that Warren Buffett thinks your best replacement would be Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I think Jamie Dimon actually would be -- I think he would be terrific, because I think he -- I think he -- if we did run into problems in markets, I think he would actually be the best person you could have in the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Any chance of that?

GEITHNER: George, the president is going to choose somebody very talented to lead the Treasury for his next four years. And I'm very fortunate, I have been able to work with him to help solve these problems for the country over this period of time, and I'm very confident he's going to have somebody in place in January to succeed me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't think you were going to bite on that. But thanks for your time this morning. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much.

GEITHNER: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our powerhouse roundtable is coming right up. We'll get their take on Tim Geithner, the tax debate that's dividing the GOP, and the president's campaign tactics. Are they forcing a deal or poisoning the well? All that in just 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable time now. George Will is off today. Glad to have Cokie Roberts here. Also Dan Senor, senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Steve Rattner, who ran the auto bailout for President Obama at the Treasury Department, and two congressmen, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, also a member of the Republican leadership, and Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House.

Let's talk about what we just heard from Tim Geithner, Cokie. He says they are making progress. I think it's fair to say he's about the only one in Washington who thinks so this week.

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Congressman Cole does, too.

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to hear that, then.

ROBERTS: But it hasn't been a very encouraging week for people who think that the fiscal cliff is not something we want to go over, and I think that the president's proposal that was put on the table was something that Republicans were not going to accept, even close to accept, so it had the air of bazaar, you know, bargaining in a bazaar, put a really high price out there so that when you start the negotiating, you feel like --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: When will the real negotiating begin?

ROBERTS: Well, that's the question.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Cole? You actually think there was progress, I think you thought--

REP. TOM COLE, R-OKLA.: No. I want to thank the president and Tim Geithner for re-uniting and re-energizing the Republican caucus, because that offer -- they must think John Boehner is Santa Claus, because that is a Christmas wish list, not a real proposal.

And in that sense, I think we took a little step back at the end of the week. Now, at the end of the day, do I think we'll arrive at a deal? Yes, I actually do, but I think there's a lot of tough negotiation ahead of us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you heard Secretary Geithner right there, and I want to get Congressman Ellison in on this as well. He says it is now up to the Republicans to come forward with the new proposal. They're not going to get -- they are not going to come forward with anything new right now.

COLE: I don't know -- there's a little bit of chicken going on here in terms of gamesmanship. The reality is, all these tax rates end at the end of the year. And so we're going to have a lot of discussion. I don't think we need to put a formal proposal out on the table. The speaker has already said revenue is on the table. He has got an idea about how to get there in terms of not raises rates, but finding it in other ways through tax code reform. I think that makes a lot of sense, and that's a doable thing, but beyond that, you know, we'll wait and see how the negotiations go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What we heard from Secretary Geithner, Congressman Ellison, is that Social Security for now is off the table in these negotiations, but talking about significant cuts in Medicare. Can your caucus accept those?

REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-MINN.: Well, it depends on whether they're going to cut benefits to people. I was meeting with seniors in my district just yesterday, and they're very worried. I mean, we have seniors who area already paying more than they can afford for medications, already worried about that. I'm not going to go to those people and tell them that they're going to do less while we're not going to raise taxes on the top 2 percent. That's just ridiculous.

And, you know, I think -- I think Tom's right. We'll probably end up with some kind of a deal, but it's not going to be on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our country, and I think that people --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you agree that something is going to happen. Dan Senor, that conflicts at least with a lot of the reporting I had on Capitol Hill this week, where you saw significant numbers of Republicans and Democrats more willing to accept the idea of going over the cliff, at least for a few days?

DAN SENOR, FORMER ROMNEY SR. ADVISER: Yes, I think as one Republican House member said to me, good lesson in negotiating is don't make your opening offer one of humiliation, which is what Republicans felt the White House has put forth in the last couple of days.

I think there's a sense now, Republicans I have spoken to, particularly in the leadership, have said, look, if we go over the cliff, we're going to get blamed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that.

SENOR: The view is shifting a little bit now, where there is a sense that if President Obama goes into his second term and poisons the environment so much that he can't get a deal and we go over the cliff, it's going to be so toxic for year two, year three, year four, and he -- the Republicans have some leverage too. The president has to be worried about his legacy and how he's going to govern through the second term. And even though Republicans might get blamed, this whole idea that the president is bringing the country together, something he wasn't able to do in his first term, if he can't do it in his second term, it could be very problematic.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is something Democrats have to be wary of, isn't it?

STEVE RATTNER, FORMER LEAD AUTO ADVISER: Yes, but I don't see it that way at all. Look, the president has made a proposal. It may not be what everybody likes. When you go out to sell your house, you don't put on the price that you're actually willing to sell it on. You start at a place and you negotiate.

I think it was an outrageous proposal. It's consistent with everything he said before. But it's a proposal, it is a real proposal. The Republicans have put no proposal on the table. Nothing, nada. Zip. And so if we go over the cliff, it's not at all clear to me that the American people are going to blame the president as opposed to a party that has put nothing on the table.

ROBERTS: This -- of the blame is really dispiriting, because the idea of who's going to get the blame instead of figuring out how to keep it from happening is exactly what drives voters nuts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They may have to be aware of who's going to get the blame before they come to a deal.

One proposal that came from you, Congressman Cole, and it caused some consternation in Republican ranks from the House speaker, you're saying accept part of the president's proposal, pass right now an extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, and then fight over the rest later. I want to show you what Speaker Boehner had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him. You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two rates. It will hurt small businesses, it will hurt our economy. It's why this is not the right approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I saw he disagreed. But I see other Republicans coming forward, including Bill Kristol--

(CROSSTALK)

COLE: I just want to point out he called me a wonderful friend.

(LAUGHTER)

COLE: Actually, it really is.

Look this is a -- I actually do believe that we should take things where we agree with the president, and we do agree on this, and take them off the table one at a time. And this would actually I think strengthen our position in the course of negotiations. But (inaudible) where the president has not been very specific -- spending restraints, entitlement reforms. And it leaves us free to fight to keep rates constant and try to reach revenue in another way, which the speaker has talked about.

But at the end of the day, again, these rates hit every single American at the end of the month. It's not as if congress has to do something to keep that from happening. It actually does have to do something to prevent us from...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I think this is politically very smart move. I mean, you know, 98 percent...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're helping him in his caucus right now, but go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: 98 percent of Americans then know that their taxes are not going to go up in January. Their payroll taxes might, but that their income taxes are not and that is huge. And the truth is, from what I'm hearing, the top 2 percent better start making financial plans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there's no question about that. But what's wrong with this proposal?

SENOR: Look, I think there are parts of this proposals that are, shall we say, reasonable, how about that, reasonable. But I think the bigger problem here is if the president is sticking to this position, at least for the time being that he outlined last week, it would be the equivalent of Republicans not putting forward something like Tom put forward. It would be the equivalent of Republicans saying we want the Ryan budget, we want marginal tax cuts across 20 percent across the board. I mean, some very extreme position. So it's hard to have sort of a reasonable response to what the president put forward this weekend.

I'll tell you, Steve, I think he has dug in, he spent more time on the phone this week from what I understand with Steve Israel, the chair of the Democrat's campaign arm, than he did with John Boehner. He's spending time meeting with people like Richard Trumka and MoveOn.org. You tell me what he's telling those hard left groups about his position and how he can walk back to something more reasonable that someone like Tom's is for given what he's saying to these hard left...

RATTNER: He also met with quite a number of business leaders, a lot of CEOs, a lot of Republicans this week. He's trying to do something different than he's done before which is take his message outside of the Beltway, outside of Capitol Hill and try to bring it to the people. And I'm totally in favor of that.

But look, in the negotiations a year and almost a half ago, Speaker Boehner was reportedly offered $800 billion of revenue. The president has asked for $1.6 trillion of revenue. There's a bid. There's an ask. If the Republicans want to get a deal done, let's sit down and try to find...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring that to Congressman Ellison, because we started to see the beginnings of a counteroffer this weekend from Senator Mitch McConnell and Republicans. He told the Wall Street Journal, he offered three things, he said we need to see higher Medicare premiums paid by the wealthier, number one. He said a gradual increase in the eligibility age for Medicare and some adjustment to Social Security COLA. I believe those are all nonstarters to you and the progressive caucus.

ELLISON: Right, those would be a problem because raising rates and increasing eligibility age is going to hurt people across income scales, particularly low income senior and people like that. So that wouldn't work for us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president has been open to some of that before.

ELLISON; Here's the deal, the people of the United States believe that Medicare is an important program. They don't want to see beneficiaries cut. Now if we see cuts that don't results to cut to beneficiaries that's one thing, but we're not going to go after seeing the president win this election, we won the White House, turn right around and undermine the people who helped put us there.

ROBERTS: You know it is interesting. The older voters did vote Republican and Medicare was out there. I mean, Paul Ryan budget was there. And the older voters went for Governor Romney.

COLE: Let's not overstate the President's mandate here either. Remember, he won but he won with fewer voters and a lower percentage than he got last time. And Republican performance was better than it was four years ago. And the reality is, nobody can look at this budget and think if you don't reform entitlements you can balance it. You can give the president every tax increase he's asked for, you'd still be in the hole.

ELLISON: But it's a matter of where do you balance it? Do you balance it on the backs on the people that can least afford it or people who have been doing pretty well over the last...

(CROSSTALK)

RATTNER: ...but to get a deal, we have a divided government. The president won. We can argue about whether it's a mandate. The Republicans control the House. They have a blocking position in the Senate. There's going to have to be compromise. We're at $16 trillion of debt. We have a trillion a year deficit. You're not going to solve all that with tax increases, you're not going to solve all that with cutting discretionary programs. We have to fix the entitlement programs. There is no real choice about that.

We can talk about how we do it.

ELLISON: Well, you have got to be specific, though, Steve, because when you start talking about fixing the entitlement program, I mean, we're clear, Social Security is off the table. What do you mean?

RATTNER: No, we're not clear. No, no -- what Secretary Geithner said is on a separate process, but it's going to have to get.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLISON: We're talking about between now and 30 days from now.

COLE: But you're talking a presidential responsibility -- look, if only Nixon can go to China, only Obama can fix entitlements. I mean, this is preeminently where a president has to lead and be specific. You can't expect the Republicans to lead on an area that he's dominated in politically.

ELLISON: Here's an entitlement idea, here's a way to help support Medicare, let Medicare Part D negotiate drug prices. That would save...

SENOR: Steve, this, to me, is a much more interesting debate than Tom and Dan. Because I think the president has done exactly what he's done in the past in this negotiating. He's not sitting it down grinding out with John Boehner, he's out giving speeches, rallying his base, getting Obama for America very organized, meeting with groups like MoveOn.org. How will he be able to walk back from the position he's taken? Will the base of your conference feel like he caved?

Well, they say the president just won this historic re-election, how can he walk back now after he won re-election from this position he's taken over the last week? Is he somewhat boxed in?

ELLISON: You know, I think he's got the wind at his back. The American people want him to stand up for these essential programs.

Now look American people do want to see cost containment, but we can do that in ways that doesn't result in cuts to beneficiary. I think that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So we've got two intraparty battles going on. We're going to have to take a break. But right now, we have lot more roundtable ahead. What's next for Susan Rice? More postmortems on vote 2012 as Mitt Romney's team takes on the critics and what really happened when the rivals had lunch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, TONIGHT SHOW: But men acted very graciously. In fact -- I thought this was nice -- after lunch, Mitt Romney extend a return invitation for the president to visit him and his money in the Cayman Islands.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY KIMMEL: It's a nice gesture from the president, especially considering the fact that he hasn't let Joe Biden have lunch with him even once.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you heard, we have a lot more to talk about on this roundtable right after this from our ABC stations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Always a little awkward when the winners and losers get together after the election. We're going to talk about that Romney/Obama meeting coming up in just a little bit. But let me bring the roundtable back in. Cokie Roberts is here again. Dan Senor, former adviser to the Romney campaign, Steve Rattner, former adviser to President Obama and Congressman Tom Cole, Republican out of Oklahoma, Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota.

I do want to get to that, but we have left a lot on the table in our earlier discussions.

I want to get to that, because it really seems like each party is going to have to confront giving up a sacrifices, something that's worked for them in the past -- Democrats on Medicare, Republicans on taxes.

And Keith, you were talking about where a lot of Democrats are going to draw the line on Medicare. And Steve, I know you wanted to answer him.

RATTNER: Look, all I wanted to say is that Democrats have to face up to two fundamental realities. One, that there's divided government as I said earlier. And so if we want to get something done, there's going to have to be compromise. And second the math has to work. We have to solve this problem. $16 trillion a debt, a $1 trillion of deficit every year. We're not doing seniors or people my age, or George's age any favors by leaving Medicare completely untouched, because it will not be there for us or our children at the rate we're going.

So, we can take it out of the providers. I'm all for doing as much of that as possible. That's what we have been doing. There's a limit to how much of that we can do. Then you have to say yourself, do you want to pay more in taxes for Medicare or do you want to adjust the benefit's eligibility, means test it so wealthier people don't get all those benefits, something on that side, otherwise the numbers won't work.

ELLISON: Well, I don't see want to see Medicare turn into a welfare program which is what it would be if wealthier people didn't benefit from it or had a significantly reduced benefit. It needs to be something shared that Americans are all in, that we all participate in and we all contribute to. So I think it's a strong program.

As a matter of fact, though Steve, think about the fact that when we did the Affordable Care Act, we actually lengthened the life of the program. We can do more things like that. I mean, let's continue down that road?

ROBERTS: We talked a lot about demographics this year because of the election. And when we look at Medicare that's where the problem comes up. There's just not enough young people to support all of the old people. And they're getting to be fewer young people. I mean, what we're seeing right now is that our immigrant populations are producing fewer children. And so it is really not possible to keep this level of support.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, unless you control -- there are other ways to control costs as well. I think that's what (inaudible) debate is.

ROBERTS: But, the problem with controlling costs you can only do that to some degree. Every single year we go back and do the "doc" fix. In fact, we'll do it between now and January 1 again. And that is always a phony thing...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It raises payments to the doctors.

ROBERTS: That congress says is their going to cut payments to doctors and doctors pull out of the Medicare program. And congress...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it is restored, absolutely...

SENOR: It's very hard to do this without structural reforms.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the taxes...

ELLISON: If I may, if you don't mind -- look, we are seen people's retirement package reduced. We have seen people's individual savings, their employment related retirement savings go down, you know, you cannot keep on seeing 401(k)s go down and savings rates go down and then say we're going to cut the other stuff that people can count on. I mean, we've go to make some...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is going to be the...

RATTNER: The numbers have to work. You've got to get the numbers to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to turn to the tax debate as well, because...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You guys are sitting back.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get to the tax debate. You have seen Speaker Boehner, other Republicans say, we'll really have more revenues, but this drawing the line on tax rate increases and Grover Norquist has come out hard again of course saying Republicans have to stand by the pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: If Republicans lose in such a way they got their fingerprints on the murder weapon then you have a problem. I mean, Bush couldn't run again in 1992 successfully because he had his fingerprints on a very bad deal, which was bad on spending and bad on taxes and he broke his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he right about those politics?

COLE: You know, I think not actually not, actually, but I think you have to remember our fingerprints aren't on this if we cooperate with the president and make 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent for 98 percent of the American people. That's a victory not a loss. And then we're still free to try and fight the fight over higher rates, offering revenue, which the speaker has put on the table.

Politically to me, that seems to be a much superior position than a messy deal at the end where it looks like we caved. I think we have the opportunity to take the initiative and actually, again, move the discussion on entitlements.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what you also avoid there, Dan, something else that I think some Republicans are worried about, not '92, but 1994 when the government shut down, Newt Gingrich was blamed.

SENOR: Right. Oh that's -- trust me, you talk to Republicans that is what their -- they said no matter how this shakes out, if we go over the fiscal cliff, we are blamed. I hear that over and over.

I will say, look, there's something to what Tom is saying, which is it is an amazing notion to think that a -- a just elected Democratic president is necessary in order to make permanent the vast majority of Bush's tax cuts. Those were tax rate cuts -- you know when those tax cuts were demonized by the Democrats, they weren't just the tax rate cuts on the upper income, they were tax rate cuts across the board. The idea that most of them could be made permanent -- I mean, Bush couldn't have gotten that done in 2004 after being reelected. So I do think Republicans should take a victory lap in that regard, even if I'm skeptical of raising the top rates.

ROBERTS: It is really politically smart to do this. You know, but it's also politically smart to cut the knees out from underneath Grover Norquist. I mean, this guy -- I mean, who is he? He's an unelected...

SENOR: But it's not him. It's all the members of congress he's telling to play. He's become a straw man. He represents something that's real. He represents something that's real.

ROBERTS: The emperor has no clothes and to say that is I think very...

RATTNER: His arm is melting away, because I think everybody recognizes to get these numbers to work you have to have revenue increases. And the question then is do you next tax rate increases or not? I think it is very tough to make the math work...

(CROSSTALK)

COLE: ...honestly, I think -- and I like Grover, I don't have any problem with having signed your pledge, but there is a big -- I'll be back -- there's a big, big difference between not being able to extend our temporary tax cuts. That to me is not a violation of the pledge. I didn't sign a pledge that said I have to extend every temporary tax cut. If that was true, I'd have to be for also extending the payroll tax cut. And I think...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you not for that?

COLE: No, I'm not -- well, look if you can find a way, great. But I don't like cutting payroll taxes because the cut is always temporary. It doesn't change. And you have to fund Social Security, you have to fund Medicare. So, no, I think those are...

ELLISON: But I don't like any of this pledge stuff. What about the pledge to the American people to do fiscally responsibly for everybody. I mean, I actually think that it's great that you made that proposal. And I think that you might find...

COLE: Find somebody else who likes it...

(LAUGHTER)

SENOR: But the reality is, in most of the congressional districts where Republicans are today they are -- a lot of them are more concerned about a primary challenge to the re-election than a general challenge to the reelection. So this Grover Norquist, you know, thing that's been put out there is a little bit of myth, you're talking about real politics on the ground in these congressional districts. A number of these members ran on strong, you know, fiscal responsible, pro-growth agendas. And it's about staying true to the agendas they ran on, it's not about Grover Norquist.

ROBERTS: But you can make a case that it's not fiscally responsible...

(CROSSTALK)

RATTNER: Look, I think it's going to be very hard for the Republicans at the end to resist some rate increases. It's very hard to argue why the top 2 percent of Americans shouldn't see some increase in their marginal....

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president is simply not going to agree to something that doesn't include some kind of rate increase.

ROBERTS: That's basically, what Congressman Cole was saying.

RATTNER: Compromise involves compromise in both directions. I don't understand why the Republicans are so dug in on this. You're talking about a very small change in marginal rates. I've been in the working world around people making a lot of money for 30 years. I don't see their behavior changing much whether the tax rate is 35 percent or 37 percent and hence Republicans are fighting the wrong fight.

ELLISON: People are paid off of dividend income I mean, and not just payroll.

SENOR: I think it's not about -- the rich people, you're right, are not affected, it's a lot of businesses and small businesses whose tax...

(CROSSTALK)

SENOR: I'm about agree with you on one point, which is I do think the Republican leadership at some point here needs to put forward publicly its plan. I mean, that is something that -- it's sort of an awkward negotiation. I do think the president has gone way too far out on the left.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't that what McConnell started to do with the Wall Street Journal on Saturday?

SENOR: I think you're seeing the beginning of it, but I think it's still (inaudible) pieces of....

(CROSSTALK)

COLE: To be fair to Leader McConnell he's always been very forthright. Look, entitlement reform takes both sides coming together and jumping out -- and then it's not an issue in the next election, because they both did it.

And I think he very much...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on, but let me quickly go just around the table, does this get done before January 1st or not?

COLE: Yes.

ELLISON: Probably.

ROBERTS: If they say so, I believe it.

RATTNER: Yes.

SENOR: Probably.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wow, I'm going to be the only no. We'll see what happens.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on -- at least for a few days -- we'll see. Let's move on to Susan Rice right now. You saw last week on this show, Lindsey Graham, and on other shows, other Republicans start to suggest that they were more open to the idea at least that she might be secretary of state. But then she went up to Capitol Hill this weekend, and listen to the senators after the meetings with the U.N. Ambassador Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: We're significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get.

GRAHAM: The concerns I have today are greater today than they were before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I got to say, Cokie, I was surprised by all that. Usually you don't go up to a meeting like that unless you have some idea of how it's going to turn out.

ROBERTS: It is surprising, but I think what we're dealing with, to some degree, is something that Dan was just talking about, which is that Republicans, particularly Senator Graham, are more worried about their primaries than their general elections, and there is some amount of trying to prove your conservative credentials here. I think that Senator Graham has been out there on issues like immigration and other issues where conservatives aren't with him. And to sort of go an attack on Ambassador Rice might be--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're shaking your head.

SENOR: Because it's not just Senator Graham. It's Susan Collins, a moderate, from Maine, who introduced Susan Rice at her confirmation hearing. It's Bob Corker, the incoming ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is a very much a moderate, very much works across party lines. I know Steve has worked with him.

These are not firebrands and these are not people worried about primary challenges. I spoke to one senator who met with her this week, this consensus this individual conveyed was that these meetings did not go well.

Benghazi was a serious issue. We can debate whether or not Susan Rice should be blamed for it. But she was front and center on a very serious issue.

(CROSSTALK)

SENOR: And I think the administration has handled this terribly. They have put her out there as though she's going to be a nominee, except they haven't nominated her. You know, Jay Carney is being asked questions, has to defend her. I am not going to speculate about someone, she hasn't been nominated for anything, and now she's under the media onslaught for her investments and companies in Iran and investments in Canada. So she gets all the downsides of being a nominee without any of the infrastructure and administration support for her.

RATTNER: So we can talk about how the administration handled it and debate that, but I don't believe -- I think what she did was entirely appropriate. She was given a set of talking points, done by nonpartisan intelligence agencies, which we -- to the best of our knowledge, the White House changed exactly one word, an innocuous word.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- the intelligence agencies did.

RATTNER: Consulate to mission. She went out there and she did it. And now she's being torn apart for it. It's as if when George was interviewing Tim Geithner, he'd said -- Tim Geithner was supposed to have gone and added up all the numbers in their budget proposal to make sure they're right.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: If she was a nominee, there would be a whole infrastructure there to support her. There would be a war room. And none of that is the case. So she's just kind of --

(CROSSTALK)

ELLISON: I think that she's being treated horribly.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLISON: I think she has done really good work. I mean, it was her who really went out there and helped get the consequences for the no-fly zone in Libya. That was hard work to do. She came through, she came through for the people attacking her right now, like Senator McCain. And I think it's really unfortunate circumstances. This woman is a great--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring this to Congressman Cole. How much of this is about the merits of the issue and how much of this has to do with some Senate politics as well? Senator Kerry, everyone knows that he's the followup--

COLE: I would like to believe that not much has to do with politics. There's a legitimate concern that she was, just five days after the fact, to propagate a story that we should have known at the time wasn't the case. And there are some serious questions here by the way about our own intelligence people. We saw President Bush out (inaudible) defending something we found out later wasn't true too. Maybe we should ask those guys some questions, but you want a secretary of state in the end that can unite you, not divide you, and that can speak forcefully for the country. Secretary Clinton, frankly, has managed to do that. I am not convinced that Ambassador Rice--

STEPHANOPOULOS: Cokie, let me bring this to you, then, Cokie. So what does the president do right now? If you take them at their word, he had not made up his mind to choose Susan Rice. It was between Susan Rice and John Kerry. You could look at the politics either way. On the one hand, you say, boy, he can't back down to this opposition in the Senate. On the other hand, is this a fight that he wants?

ROBERTS: He wants to have, right. And having a nomination fight over a secretary of state is really an unusual and shocking thing.

And so, I think that probably in the end, he doesn't do it. But I do think that it is -- but he, again, he put her in this position, and then, then she gets the opposition, and then he says, well, I can't name you. It's unfair. And I'm not -- maybe in the end, he realizes that and says--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is this a fight that will necessary hurt the president?

ELLISON: I don't think we should link whether or not she -- what happened in Benghazi and whether she gets the nomination. I would hate to conclude that the reason she doesn't get that nomination is because of this stuff that just happened. They're not necessarily connected. And I just want to --

ROBERTS: Talk radio is just full of Benghazi. It is a big issue.

ELLISON: Which is amazing to me. In 1982, we lost 241 Marines in Lebanon, and the country came around President Reagan. You didn't see all this partisan bickering --

ROBERTS: We invaded Grenada the next day.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLISON: We came together and said that this is a national tragedy, and blame was not parcelled out the way it is now. I think it's unfortunate.

SENOR: You look at 1982, there was actually -- there was an airing. There was accountability, there was an outlet for accountability. Part of the problem here is in the lead-up to the election, when Benghazi got a lot of attention, the president said don't talk about Benghazi. If you do, you are politicizing the issue. So you were not allowed -- Romney and others weren't allowed to --

(CROSSTALK)

SENOR: Here we are after the election, and there's no full airing. We still don't know exactly what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait a second. That may be true, but is it really what happened on a Sunday show? There are legitimate questions about what was the security situation at the mission at Benghazi, why wasn't there more security, but that's not her job.

(CROSSTALK)

RATTNER: There are two separate issues. One is what happened in Benghazi, and there is an investigation going on by two very high level, distinguished, people. And we'll get the report, and then we can debate, and then we can debate that. And that's a fair debate to have, as to how Benghazi was handled.

I don't believe that what's being done to Susan Rice right now is fair. It's politics, it's ugly, and it may force the president not to nominate her. But I don't think it's fair.

ROBERTS: But this political part about it is not only just the upset over Benghazi, there's the internal Senate politics. And John Kerry, now he's not always been a favorite of his colleagues, but they seem to be supporting him now, but there is also the question of, if he leaves the Senate, who gets elected in Massachusetts.

(CROSSTALK)

SENOR: Look, I think everyone understands that John Kerry is going to be nominated for something. If it is not secretary of state, it could be the secretary of defense. This idea that they're holding up Susan Rice because of this plan to get Scott Brown maybe elected -- I just think it's--

(CROSSTALK)

SENOR: That's too much. I just want to come back to something. Look, there is this investigation going on in Benghazi. But there are certain things that we can get basic answers to. There was a complete security vacuum in Libya before September 11th, 2012. There was. I mean, there were -- transactional terrorist groups were able to fill that vacuum. Our security was depending on these local Libyan militia. These are things we know. What happened on September 11? What the president did in the Situation Room on September 11? These are things he knows. What happened after September 11, in terms of how the administration communicated to the American public? They don't have to wait for Chip Pickering to do an investigation. These are basic questions that can be answered, and they haven't been, which is why you see one opening, which is this possible nomination of Susan Rice becoming this--

ROBERTS: And that nomination would become an entire investigation of Benghazi. That's what that nomination would become.

RATTNER: Susan Rice wasn't responsible for Benghazi.

ROBERTS: I understand that.

RATTNER: If these guys have all the questions, all those good questions you just asked, if they have all those good questions you just asked, they should ask those questions and not start talking about Susan Rice --

(CROSSTALK)

COLE: The president has to make a decision here. Do I really want this fight? Is this really going to be helpful? Is this in the best interests of the country? Is this person so indispensable that she's the only person I can find to be secretary of state, or do I avoid the fight, find somebody else that's perfectly acceptable, perfectly defensible? My money is he probably comes down there. He's going to have plenty of fights. This is not one I would go pick.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a couple of minutes left. I want to put up that picture we saw of Mitt Romney and President Obama in the Oval Office this week and ask Dan Senor, you know, the statement that came out of the White House was about as tepid as a statement could be, saying maybe if something comes up in the future they can work together, they might find a way to do it. Do you have any insight into what really happened?

SENOR: Not much that I can get into, other than to say --

(LAUGHTER)

SENOR: No, no, they both -- actually, both of them, both President Obama and Governor Romney agreed that they would keep this pretty close held. I think it was a very respectful discussion. I think it was an interesting discussion, probably more interesting than some of these images you showed earlier of Gore and Bush and some of these other win-loss get-togethers.

I take President Obama at his word, what he said publicly at that press conference after his election, that there are some ideas that Governor Romney put fore that he thinks are interesting. I think they may have talked about some of those issues. I think they'll have an open channel of communication. I don't think there's going to be that much--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are Republicans going to be looking for Mitt Romney to do in the future?

COLE: You know, probably raise a lot of money. Honestly, he did build a tremendous infrastructure during the course of his campaign, and he had a great campaign team and staff around him. Who he supports in 2016 will matter if he chooses to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let's take one more quick break, and as we look at this good Samaritan photo that rocketed around the world this week, the roundtable, when we come back, is going to weigh in on where they find hope in politics. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY DEPRIMO, NYPD: I remember that night, it was just extremely cold. And to look down at this gentleman's feet, and to see that he had no socks. And when he told me he never had a pair of shoes, it was just -- my heart went out to him. I ran ahead of him. And I went into Sketchers, and I asked them, I don't care what it costs, this gentleman needs a pair of shoes. They were able to help me out. It was cold. And he couldn't -- I didn't want him doing it himself. So I just knelt down. I didn't think anything of it. And I just helped him put on the socks and the shoes there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that simple act of kindness from Officer Larry DePrimo went around the world, has been seen millions and millions of time. Right now, it gives us the opportunity (inaudible) with just a couple of minutes left here to identify some things that are giving you hope in our political word.

ROBERTS: In the political word? I'm just back from Vietnam, where I was doing some work with Save the Children, and eventually we get it right. It takes a long time sometimes. But we've gotten it right there. We're doing wonderful development work there, we the American people, putting shoes on all kinds of people. And especially on little children who've never had them before.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Dan Senor?

SENOR: This week, the Jack Kemp Foundation is having its inaugural conference, and people like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio are speaking at it. You look at their speeches, it's all about the war on poverty. It is all about strengthening civil society. You look at these ideas, I shared a couple of them with a Democratic friend of mine. I didn't tell him who the author of the ideas were, and he says, this is something that we could do. So I actually think strangely, there's a war on poverty campaign that Democrats and Republicans could find common ground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's some good news.

RATTNER: What gives me hope is that we had an election, it was hard-fought, and there was ideology, and in the end, the American people basically to me made a statement that they believe in government, they believe government can still help solve programs. And they believe it is the government's job to focus particularly on those who are most in need.

COLE: Look, I think -- I agree. The American people, I think, told us they want us to work together. They kept power divided. The great thing about our system is over time, the will of the American people always works through it. You got some checks, you got some balances. But in the end, people do -- politicians do what people tell them to do. And I think they told us to work together, I believe we will.

ELLISON: I think you got a public employee going above and beyond the call of duty to help a homeless person, just goes to make me think our government workers are pretty good people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that. One of the things that I was encouraged by looking back at the election, we actually saw that young people stayed engaged this time around. Their share of the electorate actually went up over 2000, and that's a hopeful sign if we have continued participation going forward in the future. And those were all fantastic contributions. Thank you all very much. Great roundtable. Dan is going to stick around and answer questions all of you at home now tweeted us about the Romney campaign. That's this week "Web Extra."

And when we come back -- I'll take your questions in "Your Voice" this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week the Pentagon released the names of two service members killed in Afghanistan.

And when we come back, this question, of all of the American presidents, who would you like to interview? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, "Your Voice" this week. Today's question comes from Robert Day. If you could go back in time, what president would you interview and why? Any and all is the easy answer. But there are the few. Who wouldn't want to hear Abe Lincoln to explain all the exquisite and agonizing compromises it took to keep our country whole. I'd love to hear Harry Truman lay out the costs and benefits he weighed before becoming the first leader ever to use a nuclear weapon. And how much I'd like to press Thomas Jefferson to reconcile his immortal words from the Declaration of Independence with his unapologetic ownership of slaves. Those are just a few of my picks. Send us yours by tweeting me @gstephanopoulos.

And that's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News With David Muir" tonight and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."

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