Lawmakers still see path to avert "fiscal cliff"

The slimmed-down proposal President Obama suggested to Congress on Friday to avert part of the "fiscal cliff" shouldn't be the one lawmakers push through this week, Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Kent Conrad said today on "Fox News Sunday."

"I would hope that we would have one last attempt here to do what everyone knows needs to be done, which is a larger plan that really does stabilize the debt and gets us moving in the right direction," the retiring North Dakota senator said. On Friday, the president said he spoke with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and asked that they pass an interim plan that prevents tax rates from spiking on middle-class families should lawmakers fail to avert the series of potentially devastating tax hikes and spending cuts, set to trigger Jan. 1.

Negotiations between Republicans and the White House unraveled, Conrad said, when Boehner "went off on 'Plan B,'" an offer that would raise taxes on Americans making more than $1 million a year. The plan died when Boehner could not drum up enough support from within his own conference.

A better alternative than what the president asked for Friday, Conrad suggested, would be to split the difference between Boehner's and Mr. Obama's pre-"Plan B" proposals - "that would be $2.6 trillion," he said. "You couple that with the $1.1 trillion that's already been done; that would be close to the $4 trillion needed to stabilize the debt and begin to bring it down. ...Is it perfect? No. Is it everything we'd hoped for? No. Does it match what Bowles-Simpson did? No. On an even comparison, Bowles-Simpson would be $5.3 trillion."

Meanwhile, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, agreed during a segment on "Face the Nation" that lawmakers will get Americans past the "cliff" - but only with a "patch" solution that won't likely last long into the new year.

"I think, unfortunately, there's only going to be a small deal," Warner told Bob Schieffer about the prospect for an agreement when Congress re-convenes after Christmas, on Dec. 27. "But unless we get to $4 trillion" in spending cuts and revenue, he said, "we're just kicking the can."

Warner said that of more than $4 trillion taken out of the revenue stream, by extending the Bush-era tax cuts, "we're only talking putting about a third of that back in. At the same time, we doubled defense spending, created homeland security, created new drug benefits, and we're all getting a lot older. We have to realize it's gonna take revenues, spending cuts, and entitlement reforms."

Hutchison, too, said she has an "abiding faith" that a deal will go through, but said because "in four days we can't solve everything," any post-holiday solution would be a mere "patch."

"This is going to take presidential leadership - hands-on leadership," she said. "It's going to take both houses of Congress and everyone to realize that we can't let taxes go up on working people in this country, and the Bush tax cuts are tax cuts that did help our economy in the beginning.

"We are in the doldrums now because of the debt and the deficits that are dragging down our economy as well as the overregulation of small business," Hutchison continued. "I think we need to stop this fiscal cliff at a reasonable salary level, then start working on the spending cuts."

But appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said there's a good chance even a scaled-back, temporary fix won't make it through the Hill's hoops by year's end.

"We're going to be here New Year's Eve," he said. "In the aftermath of House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called 'Plan B,' it's the first time I feel it's more likely that we'll go over the cliff than not."

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