(CNN) – With higher taxes and large spending cuts potentially just weeks away, a panel with CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on Sunday looked at whether Congress and the White House could come together to forge a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill newspaper, said that discussions were moving backward rather than making any progress. She said Republicans feel that President Obama is "inflaming" the negotiations by taking his case directly to voters, as he did this week in Pennsylvania.
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Joining Stoddard on the panel on "State of the Union" were Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat; Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and vice chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for 2011-2012; and Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief.
Schweitzer blamed Congress for the current situation, saying the lawmakers created the fiscal cliff in the first place. "It was Congress that lit a fire to the barn, with the expectation that they would get credit for putting the fire out later," said Schweitzer. He also slammed Republicans for being offended by Obama's campaigning, saying they should put on their "big boy pants."
Fiorina contrasted the current situation to the new movie "Lincoln," saying that Abraham Lincoln used a lot of political capital on a big issue, passing the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Obama, she said, was instead pushing a "small idea" by calling for higher tax rates on the wealthy, and not spending any political capital to do so. Fiorina added that in order for Republicans to reach a deal with the president, both sides have to feel that they are getting something, and a deal will not be reached if it feels like a "win-lose."
Page said it was too soon for a deal to be reached, as there is not yet an incentive to reach a deal with the deadline still a few weeks away. She said it was more likely that a deal, if reached, would happen in late December. "If you are planning to make New Years' Eve plans, I would suggest you cancel them," she said. Page added that the Obama administration, while wanting higher taxes, was not demanding that tax rates go up to Clinton-era levels. That, she said, could be the opening for a compromise with Republicans, although many liberal House Democrats and conservative House Republicans might not support any deal.
Stoddard agreed with Page's assessment on taxes, saying that she had been told by Republicans that they were willing to accept higher rates "They are not in the interest, after this election, in defending millionaires," she said, and would probably settle for an increase to about 37% from the current 35% top rate. However, added Stoddard, Republicans want Obama to give up some ground on spending in return, and if he does not, then they will not also agree to increase the debt ceiling, which must be raised by early next year to avoid default.
Schweitzer said right now both the White House and Republicans are trying to have "a give and a take," which he considered a part of any deal. He predicted that a deal would be reached, but that it would be a "mini-grand deal," not including major reforms.
Fiorina agreed, but said she would be disappointed if Congress "punted" again on the nation's fiscal problems.
The panel also briefly looked at the potential candidates for the 2016 presidential race. Stoddard said the top Republican candidates at the moment are probably this year's vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, whom she called the "de facto leader of the party among conservatives," and Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who she believed could help push the GOP to support some type of immigration reform.
Fiorina said the focus on the next election, rather than focusing on the now, was a contributor to dysfunction in Washington. Schweitzer agreed, saying only Washington was focusing on 2016 at this point.
Page asked Schweitzer, who is term-limited and leaving the governorship in January, if he would be interested in running for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Schweitzer declined to answer, although he did say in a somewhat joking manner that he "had a warm regard for the people of Iowa and New Hampshire."
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