Martin Bashir | December 13, 2012
>>> an extremely busy day in washington. the president and john boehner are due to meet at the top of the hour for urgent talks on the fiscal cliff . and with 12 days to christmas, boehner has had his 12 drummers drumming to the beat of spending is the problem. boehner started the day with a chart prepared by drummer boy paul ryan and after taking the serious step of launching a twitter hash tag, he declared that the president is not serious about the debt.
>> here we are at the 11th hour and the president still isn't serious about dealing with this issue right here. it's this issue, spending.
>> are you feeling the christmas spirit yet? well, despite the strife, the president's kept his holiday cheer.
>> how are you feeling about a deal? optimistic?
>> it's a work in progress .
>> speaker boehner says he's waiting to hear more from you, sir.
>> merry christmas .
>> we sure hope so, mr. president. let's see what can be done about it. let's bring in our panel here in new york. ken vogel , chief investigative reporter for politico and william cohen author of "money and power." and nbc's mike viqueira. mike, you are there on the hill for us. you have a ringside seat, a fresh round at 5:00. what are the oddsmakers saying on the hill.
>> i think there's a slightly better odds than there were this morning, which is to say none to nil.
>> reporter: i will say this, i don't think all is lost. i don't think anybody is going to throw in the towel on this thing. there may be some wiggle room but there's also the possibility that we do go over the cliff on january 1st . here is the threshold question, i'm going to break this down as easily and simply as i can.
>> you are aware i am dumb, so thank you.
>> would john boehner , a republican speaker of the house , would any speaker of the house , put something on the floor that goes against dearly held party doctrine? in other words raising taxes , and not get a majority of the majority and rely on the opposition party to do it? it almost never happens and i cannot envision it happening on this time. however, are there enough republicans to go along, a majority of the republican conference in the house that's roughly 235 at this point in total, are there enough to go -- or are there enough to make a majority to vote in favor of some tax hike on the wealthy, somewhere in between, if they get enough of a commitment from the president on cutting spending and particularly addressing entitlements? it doesn't seem like there's reason for optimism at this point. dick durbin , the number two democrat in the senate said this morning raising the eligibility age for medicare is completely off the table now. he's been told that by the white house . 72 members of the democratic caucus on the house side, virtually all of them on the left, as well as the leader there, nancy pelosi , have also said today, this very day, they're going to take it off the table. the question becomes then what does the president have to offer republicans in order to entice them? i don't think there's much if there's not entitlement reform there. they're going up and speaking again, the second time this week. they had their first one-on-one meeting since the election on sunday night at the white house . all of this happening very hush, hush off camera. we can expect a similar approach today. that alone may be some reason for optimism. but we're all reading the tea leaves and the body language. we're talking to a lot of folks who have a lot of educated guesses about how this is going to end up, but nobody really knows for sure, i got to tell you.
>> ken vogel , we don't expect original thinking from political leaders every day, but for john boehner to drag out one of paul ryan 's charts struck me as if i was wanting to relitigate the presidential election today.
>> and it's interesting because boehner has this balance where he is trying to bring along his conference even as he is -- has the speaker election coming up --
>> on january 3rd .
>> on january 3rd , and he has resistance and we have seen him struggle to deal with some of the more strong-willed, shall we put it, ideological members of his conference. he appears to be trying to appeal to them. paul ryan is very popular with those members. he is not however riding a surge of popularity after the presidential election .
>> no, he is not.
>> so there is definitely a risk here. and polls show that president obama has the upper hand here. you know, voters trust him more to handle the situation. if voters don't trust congress as much and even more when you break it down, there is more distrust of republicans and they do stand the risk of being blamed here for -- if this goes awry because john boehner is trying to walk this tightrope between his caucus and striking a deal.
>> to ken's point, our new poll shows americans believe the president was elected with a mandate to raise taxes on earnings above $250,000, to reduce the deficit with a balanced approach, to eliminate the bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and to implement his health care law . all of those, bill. so why are republicans behaving as if they have the mandate in these circumstances?
>> martin, it makes absolutely no sense. unless it's a colossal head fake by the speaker of the house zwroosh i don't think it is then.
>> then it's the worst negotiating skills i have ever seen in a congressional leader because if he doesn't reach a deal with the president, if he isn't able to bring his caucus along, we are going to go over the cliff . i'm starting to get into the howard dean camp i must say. let's go over the cliff because that's the only tactic that makes sense to me now because that way the republicans can come back after the first of the year and act like they are lowering taxes on the middle class and not act as though they have to raise them.
>> bill, last week he were telling me that the head of the imf christine lagarde has been repeatedly warning the congress to get this deal done so we don't go over the cliff . what are you saying now?
>> everybody is saying we have to get a deal resolved. there's universal feeling among business leaders, ceos throughout the country.
>> ben bernanke .
>> ben bernanke is taking matters into his own hands to try to right the economy. so it's only boehner and his right wing republican conference which i don't understand the tactic at all.
>> okay. mike, the white house said today the republicans haven't budged on the key issue, which is raising rates for the top 2%.
>> so boehner may say ifs and buts are candy and nuts but where do they find themselves if we go over the cliff knowing that the president argued in the election over this central issue?
>> reporter: two things. first of all, you know, i think regardless of what the polls say, this is a question of who looks the worst, not who looks the best. i think both sides in the end if we go over the cliff , if there is this economic catastrophe and i agree with bill, if we go over the cliff , they can come back and pass something retroactively. nothing is certainty point. i don't think anybody really wins in this scenario at all. so i think with regard to -- the one thing you have to keep in mind, you know, the average member of congress is not thinking strategically about the big picture or what lessons are learned from the national election. they're thinking what lessons are learned from their constituencies in whatever red state they come from, each member represents 700,000 americans. they're thinking about, you know, what it is, the politics that gets them elected and it's a matter of votes. all politics is local. we can take all about how the mandates from the election, what the public clearly wants and the public clearly does not want to see this, this gridlock and bickering as the economy teeters on the edge of economic catastrophe, but you're asking people to vote against their core beliefs, and that is an awful big leap, bad pun, or at least a tough vote they're going to have to take eventually to allow those taxes even on the top 2% to go up. that's what it boils down to.
>> mike viqueira, ken vogel , and bill cohen , thank you so