Getting To 'Yes' On The Fiscal Cliff (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CLIFF: While the inside-the-Beltway focus has been on the wrangling between the White House and Republican Congressional leaders in the fiscal cliff talks, we've heard less about the practical effect of the failure to reach a deal before the end of the year. On "World News," ABC's Jonathan Karl profiled Melinda Vega. Unemployed for a year, Vega's $450-per-week unemployment checks could stop at the end of the year if lawmakers can't find a solution. And it's not just her, without a deal, unemployment compensation would end for more than 2 million Americans who have been without a job for more than 26 weeks. "We won't be able to pay some of our bills," Vega said in an interview with ABC News. "As for Christmas and things of that nature, they're probably off the table." WATCH:
  • WHAT NATIONAL FISCAL CLIFF POLLS TELL US (AND WHAT THEY DON'T): ABC News Political Director Amy Walter writes: National polls show that Republicans would take the brunt of the blame for a dive over the so-called fiscal cliff. A Washington Post/Pew Research Survey released this week found that a majority of the public (53 percent) would point the finger at Republicans if Congress fails to reach a deal on taxes and government spending. Just 27 percent would blame President Obama. But are national polls really the right tools with which to understand the political consequences of this latest legislative limbo? After all, the Romney and the Obama campaign both eschewed national polling during the campaign, focusing instead on the battleground states that would deliver the Electoral College. And, when it comes to the House, a national sample isn't particularly predictive either. There are very few Democrats or Republicans who sit in "swing districts." Just 81 members of the House - less than 20 percent - won their seats with less than 55 percent of the vote. In other words, what the general public thinks is not necessarily indicative of what the voters in the individual districts think.
  • 2016 WATCH - PAUL RYAN'S NON-DECISION, DECISION: In an interview with Time Magazine's Massimo Calabresi, former vice presidential nominee and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan weighed in on his political future: "Driving down Capitol Hill to the Kemp Foundation dinner, Ryan says he didn't think twice about jumping back into the budget battle as part of Boehner's team. How long will he stick with it? Having just won re-election, he says he has ­'every intention' to run for Congress again in 2014. But advisers admit he is eyeing a run at the White House in 2016, something other Republicans say is virtually a given. 'I've decided not to decide' whether to run for President, Ryan says. 'You can't hold on forever doing that, but I've decided to focus on my family and my job.'"
  • CAN LAWMAKERS LEARN FROM 'LINCOLN'? They are about to find out in a few weeks. The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe reports that senators plan to attend a special screening of the new film on Dec. 19 (President Obama held a private screening at the White House the week the move opened). "Perhaps they need the inspiration as they seek to avoid the "fiscal cliff," or maybe they're just looking for some nighttime entertainment. Or maybe it's all about finding excuses to socialize together - since everyone seems to agree that lawmakers need to do more of that when they're here in Washington," O'Keefe notes. "The fact that the Senate is scheduling an event for Dec. 19 - less than a week before Christmas and after they were expected to adjourn - confirms what many already fear: That Congress will be working down to the wire to avoid the New Year's deadlines tied to the fiscal cliff."


There are all sorts of theories floating around Washington about what kind of deficit reduction deal Democrats and Republicans eventually cut and when and how they get there.

And, nearing the end of a week when little progress appears to have been made, one thing is certain: Americans are worried about the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff.

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll out this morning, voters by a 47 to 23 percent margin said that the consequences of falling off the cliff, which include deep spending cuts and painful tax hikes, would be bad for the economy. And even more - 53 percent - said lawmakers' failure to avoid the cliff would be "bad for their personal financial situation" compared to just 13 percent who said it wouldn't.

What's more, President Obama and Democrats head into the final weeks before Christmas operating from a position of relative strength, at least when it comes to public opinion.

Obama's post-election job approval rating stands at 53 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac numbers (40 percent disapprove), and 53 percent of voters also said they trust the president and Democrats more than Republicans to work out a deal in the deficit negotiations.

But the question of how that happens is another matter altogether. Some Republicans say that the best option is to simply get President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in a room together and wait for them to hammer out a deal mano-a-mano.

In an interview this week with Bloomberg News, President Obama disagreed.

"I don't think that the issue right now has to do with sitting in a room," he told Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman. "The issue right now that's relevant is the acknowledgment that if we're going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we've already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I'm prepared to make, that we're going to have to see the rates on the top two percent go up. And we're not going to be able to get a deal without it."

Nevertheless, House Republican Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called on the president to lead and predicted that we are entering a crucial phase of the talks - despite the fact that some lawmakers are leaving town for a long weekend.

"If you want the answer to solving the fiscal cliff, the House has put an offer on the table and the president now has to engage," McCarthy said at a news conference yesterday. "I think the next 72 hours are critical. If he sits back and continues to play politics that will give you your answer to where we are going. This is an opportunity for this country to lead. This is an opportunity for the president to lead."

And Speaker Boehner assured that he would "be available at any moment to sit down" with the president "to get serious about solving this problem." (President Obama and Boehner spoke by telephone yesterday).

In the end, more Americans are rooting for compromise rather than collapse: By a 48 to 43 percent margin, voters surveyed in today's Quinnipiac poll predicted that President Obama and Congress would reach agreement to avoid the cliff by the end of the year.


ABC'S RICK KLEIN: Members of Congress leave town for a few days - the perfect chance to get something done. If there's a fiscal cliff deal to be cut, it's going to have to start with the principals, as House Speaker John Boehner awaits the next real overture from President Obama. And having Boehner's colleagues nearby - not to mention the president's allies - would only complicate this portion of the democratic process. Both men need flexibility in what's still a relatively early stage of negotiations, and commentary from the rank-and-file is unlikely to be helpful, for now. Three weeks, even jammed by the holidays, is still a long time to accomplish something, by Washington standards, or at least to try to.

ABC's AMY WALTER: While national polls - like today's numbers from Quinnipiac University - can be of some value in understanding the mood of the country going into the fiscal cliff debate, what they can't predict is the response of voters if we indeed fall off that cliff. How voters assess blame today may be very, very different from who they hold responsible in the aftermath of a crisis. Read More:

ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Usually, when lawmakers try to strike a big deal, they do it in small groups and behind closed doors. That's how Democrats tried to draft their health reform bill. That's how they put together the Wall Street bailout. That's how, in the summer of 2011, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner almost reached a "grand bargain" to deal with the deficit as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. But recent negotiations on how to deal with the fiscal cliff seem, at least on the outside, very different. There is no room for journalists to stake out. There is no daily report from staffers that negotiations are ongoing. That's because the negotiating seems to be going on in public, through tough-talking interviews and press conferences. What happened to all the smoke-filled rooms? In fact, the fiscal cliff standoff seems more like a game of chicken than a negotiation. And that's partly true because both sides have dug so deeply into their positions, particularly on tax rates for the wealthy. Read more:

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: This afternoon, President Obama will visit the home of a middle class family in Northern Virginia to continue to make the case for Congress to extend the middle class tax cuts, ABC's Mary Bruce notes. Responding to the administration's #My2K campaign, a member of this family shared her story about how she would be impacted if Congress doesn't act. This evening the First Family attends the National Christmas Tree Lighting.

WHAT DO ROMNEY'S BIG MONEY DONORS DO NOW? They spent millions of dollars backing the wrong presidential candidate, they were geared up to celebrate an Election Night victory that never happened, and now there's a good chance their marginal tax rates are about to go up, writes ABC's Shushannah Walshe. They are the Romney high dollar donors. Mel Sembler, co-chair of Romney's Florida finance committee and a former ambassador to Australia and Italy, told ABC News he is "very discouraged" after supporting Mitt Romney for five years. Former bundler Eugene Atkinson is still "moping" over the election's outcome. "Money in politics is nothing but voice," said Sembler. And just because the campaign is over the fundraisers are not keeping their opinions on the current state of affairs in Washington quiet. Sembler said his main concern is the national debt, now over $16 trillion, and entitlements, an issue the Romney campaign put in the spotlight by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate. "You can take all the money from the rich that they have made and it wouldn't solve the problem," Sembler said. "Raising taxes $100 billion a year is not where the answer is. Where is your problem? Your problem is entitlements, the third rail of politics."


with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)

WILLING TO GO OFF THE CLIFF? 'ABSOLUTELY,' SAYS GEITHNER. ABC's Mary Bruce reports: Appearing on CNBC, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner was asked if the administration is willing to accept the impending spending cuts and tax increases if Republicans refuse to raise rates on the top two percent of income-earners as President Obama is demanding. "Oh, absolutely," Geithner replied. "There's no prospect for an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top two percent of the wealthiest." "What we're trying to do is put in place a comprehensive, balanced set of fiscal reforms that put us back on the path of living within our means," he explained, when asked why the administration would be willing to go off the cliff, which experts say could trigger a recession. VkNw0j

PENTAGON BEGINS CONTINGENCY PLANNING. The Pentagon has started to plan for the half-trillion dollars in automatic cuts over the next decade that it could face as part of the "fiscal cliff" that would start in the New Year, ABC's Luis Martinez notes. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had provided guidance that the Pentagon should conduct "internal planning" for sequestration cuts, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Wednesday morning. Sequestration is the term used to describe the automatic defense budget cuts totaling about $500 billion over the next 10 years that would be triggered in early January. The sequestration cuts were agreed to as part of last year's debt ceiling agreement that resulted in the Budget Control Act. It is one component of the coming "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax increases that would be triggered in 2013 that has dominated the political debate in Washington since the presidential election.

CORY BOOKER FINDS OUT IT'S HARD TO LIVE ON FOOD STAMPS. ABC's Sarah Parnass reports: Chickpeas and lettuce. No coffee. That's what Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker had for breakfast on his second day living on the food budget of an average American receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. From Dec. 4 to Dec. 12, Booker has agreed to eat only what he could buy with just under $30-about $4 per day-and with fewer than two days completed, Booker's already faced challenges. … On his first day, Booker ran into scheduling troubles and had to go for a long stretch with nothing to eat since he did not have access to any of the groceries he bought Monday. … Another obstacle Booker will tackle this week is the loss of his usual java jolt. One tweeter asked Booker where he would buy his coffee this week, to which he replied, "It isn't in the budget. Day one, no caffeine… "

OBAMA TO GOP: 'I WILL NOT PLAY THAT GAME.' ABC's Mary Bruce reports: President Obama [Wednesday] issued a stern warning to Republicans in Congress threatening to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip in deficit negotiations, saying "it is not a game that I will play." "I want to send a very clear message to people here: We are not going to play that game next year. If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation, which, by the way, we have never done in our history until we did it last year, I will not play that game," Obama told some of the nation's top CEOs at the Business Roundtable in Washington. "We've got to break that habit before it starts."

CALL THEM THE 'CLIFF MOMS.' A group of moms, lobbying on the fiscal cliff, treated Congress to a bear pun, AC's Arlette Saenz reports: With teddy bears and storybooks in hands, moms representing a group called "MomsRising" took to Capitol Hill Wednesday to shed light on how the fiscal cliff would affect moms across this country. "We're coming forward with stories from moms across the countries, stories from main streets across the country about what the fiscal cliff will really mean to us," Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, said. A group of eight moms, some with children in tow, delivered teddy bears and storybooks reading, "Moms and families can't 'bear' more than their fair share. Don't push us off the fiscal cliff," to 30 congressional offices. Messengers would deliver books to every member of Congress later today.

ENTITLEMENT REFORMS? NOT ON BERNIE SANDERS'S WATCH. After Sen. Dick Durbin told progressives last week that they'll need to accept a fiscal-cliff plan that does more than tax the rich, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders delivered some pushback in a speech at the National Press Club. "We have CEOs from Wall Street making millions of dollars a year, coming to Washington and saying we're gonna have to cut not only Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid-we're gonna have to cut benefits for disabled veterans," Sanders said. "Let 'em take that argument to the American people. … We have got to stand tall and say that, in the middle of this recession, we've got 50 million people who have no health insurance at all. We ain't gonna cut Medicare. We're not gonna throw children off of Medicaid."

OBAMA'S FISCAL GOALPOSTS, THEN AND NOW. ABC's Mary Bruce reports on Wednesday's White House press briefing with press secretary Jay Carney and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Jason Furman: Carney was asked repeatedly about the president's comment during last year's budget standoff that it was possible to raise $1.2 trillion in revenues without hiking tax rates, which the president now claims will not raise enough money. "The backstop of the deal, if there had been a deal, if the Republicans hadn't refused it and walked away from it, was that rates would go up on higher-income Americans when the Bush-era tax cuts expired concurrent with permanent extension of tax cuts for the middle class," Carney explained. "The only way that wouldn't have happened is if tax reform were achieved in a way that was politically feasible, in other words, that could pass Congress. So, you know, there's not a great distinction here between what we're saying now." "There's a different context for those discussions then and the discussions now," Furman added.

ONE DEMOCRAT STAYS OUT OF VIRGINIA GOVERNOR'S RACE. "Former Democratic congressman Tom Perriello has announced he will not be running for Virginia governor in 2013," reports the Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel. "'I have considered a run for Governor, and am genuinely touched by the outpouring of support. I do not feel called to serve in elected office at this time, but I do not need to have my name on the ballot to be part of the fight,' he said in a statement posted by Blue Virginia on Wednesday. Perriello is a favorite within the progressive community and hit the campaign trail in the 2012 election as a surrogate for President Barack Obama. He is currently president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the progressive think tank in Washington, D.C. Perriello served one term in Virginia's 5th congressional district, beating then-incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) in a long-shot bid in 2008 by just 727 votes. … The Virginia gubernatorial race is shaping up to be a showdown between Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe. On Wednesday, Perriello threw his support behind McAuliffe."

RUBIO ELABORATES ON AGE OF THE EARTH. After Sen. Marco Rubio caused a stir by saying he wasn't sure how old the earth is in an interview with GQ, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports that Rubio elaborated on Wednesday: "Science says it's about four and a half billion years old, and my faith teaches that that's not inconsistent," Rubio said at a Politico Playbook breakfast hosted by Mike Allen. "The answer I gave was actually trying to make the same point the president made a few years ago, and that is there is no scientific debate on the age of the Earth. I mean, it's established pretty definitively as at least four and a half billion years old … I was referring to a theological debate and which is a pretty healthy debate." "I still believe God did it," Rubio added. "And that's how I've been able to reconcile that and I think it's consistent with the teachings of my church. But other people have a deeper conflict and I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever we believe." TIAigI


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