JEFFREY BROWN: Washington was awhirl today with more talk of avoiding the much-discussed fiscal cliff. And, as November wound down, the president suggested an agreement on taxes and spending could come in time for the holidays.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe that both parties can agree on a framework that does that in the coming weeks. In fact, my hope is to get this done before Christmas.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: You know me. I was born with the glass half-full. I’m an optimist.
JEFFREY BROWN: Hopeful signs emanated from the White House and the Capitol today about getting a deal before the new year brings automatic tax hikes and spending cuts.
President Obama offered his optimism at an event with middle-class Americans who’d be hit by any tax increase.
BARACK OBAMA: I’m glad to see if you have been reading the papers lately that more and more Republicans in Congress seem to be agreeing with this idea that we should have a balanced approach.
So, if both parties agree we shouldn’t raise taxes on middle-class families, let’s begin our work with where we agree.
JEFFREY BROWN: One such lawmaker is Republican House member Tom Cole of Oklahoma. The journal Politico reported he’s urging colleagues to extend middle-class tax cuts, but allow tax rates for top earners to rise for now.
That’s what the president wants, but Republican leaders have called for raising revenues by closing loopholes and capping deductions. And, this morning, House Speaker John Boehner said he’d reinforced that position to Congressman Cole.
JOHN BOEHNER: You’re not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top — on the top two rates. It’ll hurt small businesses. It’ll hurt our economy. It’s why it’s not the right approach. We’re willing to put revenue on the table as long as we’re not raising rates.
JEFFREY BROWN: Despite the president’s talk of changing minds, Politico’s Manu Raju says that, privately, House Republicans think they can win this fight.
MANU RAJU, Politico: Right now, the Republican leadership feels pretty confident that they have most of their folks in line. They all generally support keeping tax rates low for virtually for every single income group. They do not want to see incomes increase for that top tax bracket.
JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats for putting Social Security off-limits in any deficit deal.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Why in the world wouldn’t they want to talk about the fact that this vital program started spending out more than it took in, in 2010, for the first time in nearly 30 years, and that its trustees now estimate that it will keep spending more than it takes it in for 75 years, unless we strengthen it?
JEFFREY BROWN: Majority Whip Dick Durbin answered that Social Security isn’t the issue; it’s Medicare and Medicaid.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill.: Social Security doesn’t add one penny to the deficit. It’s an important program, a critical program. Let’s take care of it in the future.
Let’s do it separate from the debt debate. Medicare is another story. Medicare has 12 years of life left. And let me make a point of saying that it has eight of those years because of President Obama’s leadership.
JEFFREY BROWN: White House officials said the president will send Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and legislative chief Rob Nabors to the Capitol tomorrow to meet with congressional leaders.
MARGARET WARNER: Online, we have a primer explaining how the fiscal cliff might affect you.