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Fiscal Cliff, Gun Debate Looms As Lawmakers Take Holiday Break


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Could eggnog be the antidote to the looming fiscal cliff? President Obama expressed this very hope as he left town for Christmas in Hawaii on Friday, saying maybe eggnog and Christmas cookies could put lawmakers in a more cooperative mood in time to prevent the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect with the new year. The president said lawmakers might also benefit from a short cooling-off period outside the partisan pressure cooker here in Washington.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're going to have to find some common ground. And the challenge that we've got right now is that the American people are a lot more sensible and a lot more thoughtful and much more willing to compromise and give and sacrifice and act responsibly than their elected representatives are, and that's a problem.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now for more on the ongoing negotiations. So, Scott, it did seem in the middle of this past week as if some kind of compromise was in the offing and Americans wanted a deal to happen. But then the deficit-cutting talks fell apart. What happened?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, here's the problem, Rachel, no deal that even hints at a tax increase is going to win the votes of the Tea Party faction within the House. On the other hand, any deal that will win the votes of those Republicans is not going to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. So, the only way that we're going to get a compromise legislation through is that some fraction of House Republicans, minus the Tea Party, along with some number of House Democrats. And this past week at least, House Speaker John Boehner was not willing to attempt that. He's worried about losing his gavel. And it's unfortunate because as you say there really is an appetite in the business community and the public at-large for some sign that divided government can work. When it looked like there might be a deal, the stock market was rallying this past week. And from the Republican point of view, it's hard to see how they get a better deal after January 1st when the president gets the tax hikes he wants without having to trade anything for them.

MARTIN: OK. So, I knew no one really likes to make predictions, especially in Washington, but I'm going to ask you anyway: what happens now?

HORSLEY: Well, the president's now looking for a scaled-down deal that would just extend Bush-era tax cuts for income up to a quarter million dollars and extend unemployment benefits. That wouldn't have the public works spending he wants. It wouldn't necessarily have the spending cuts Republicans want. In other words, it would be all about political expedience, not solving problems, sadly, what we see all too often here in Washington.

Alternatively, there is no compromise reached. Everyone's taxes go up January 1st. We cut spending across the board in a thoughtless way. And the polls are pretty clear, Republicans get the blame. Going over the cliff, at least temporarily, would not be the worst thing economically but it certainly would not inspire confidence.

MARTIN: OK. So, the president has a big agenda in the next term. In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, he has said that he would like to take on the issue of gun violence. He's looking for some pretty quick action, Scott. What does he want?

HORSLEY: He is looking for quite action. Vice President Joe Biden is going to head up an effort, and they have been tasked to come back with recommendations in January. Those would include probably better mental health care, maybe some cultural changes. And the president's also talking about some gun control measures, including a ban on assault weapons like the one used in Connecticut. The NRA broke its silence on the school shooting this past Friday, offering a very different recommendation. They say the solution is to have more guns in schools. That argument was pretty widely panned but it does show the kind of stuff resistance that any push for additional gun control is going to face.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.