Roundtable: Obama has the upper hand on "cliff" talks

(CBS News) While both sides seem far apart on a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff," a roundtable of economists and analysts on CBS News' "Face the Nation" said on Sunday that President Obama has the advantage in the discussions.

CBS News' political director John Dickerson said the president has public polling behind him and an election victory that gives him the feeling that he has the public's support on his side when negotiating with Republicans who are opposed to increasing tax rates and want broad changes to entitlement programs.

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"He's not into giving a pound of flesh. [Democrats will] give something on entitlements, but so far it's not big enough for the Republicans to get vote which is why we may go over the cliff." Dickerson said. He said Republicans are in a more difficult position because a vocal part of their electorate wants them to resist tax increases even if it means going off the "cliff."

"You have Republicans trying to figure out their...place in the world," Dickerson said.

Economist Mark Zandi sounded optimistic about both sides reaching a deal. "I think the political stars are aligned. The president has his legacy. He's a second-term president and I think he really wants to address this and I think the Republicans want to address it as well. So I think we'll get it together," he said.

He said, however, that there are dire consequences if a deal is not reached. "If they don't address these issues, if they don't scale back the cliff and raise the debt ceiling and address long-term fiscal issues we have a huge problem on ourselves hands," Zandi added, pointing out that the impact on the economy would be about $700 billion, or 4.5 percent of G.D.P.

Zandi also said that Republicans need to agree to some increases to tax rates to reduce the deficit. "From an economic perspective -- forget about the politics, you sit down and do the arithmetic or math and you can't make it work unless tax rates on upper income households rise," he said.

Maya MacGuineas, with the newly formed coalition of business groups Fix the Debt, said a $4 trillion plan is necessary to reverse the deficit. "We know it will be hard work," she said. And will be "filled with things we don't like. But we also know what we're doing by going up to the brink, waiting until the last minute, and adding all this uncertainty is creating a huge cost to the economy."

"The cheapest form of stimulus is certainty. And we don't have any of that right now," MacGuineas said.

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