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Cautious Optimism For Behind-The-Scenes Fiscal Dealing


This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Three days, that's how long Congress has to pass legislation that would avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts become effective midnight on Monday. So happy New Year.

It's not exactly the way Republicans, Democrats or most Americans want to celebrate the New Year. To find out if we're any closer to a deal, I'm joined by NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. Hi Ari.


LYDEN: Everything seems pretty quiet in Washington today. Perhaps something's going on behind the scenes, she said hopefully.

SHAPIRO: That's the hope. The two leaders of the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and their staffs are presumably furiously working behind the scenes to figure out if they can come up with a deal that everybody can vote on. They met yesterday with the president at the White House and came out sounding very different than they had just a day before. Remember, when they came back to Washington and the Senate came back into session, they were really kind of sniping each other, pointing fingers, placing blame.

Yesterday afternoon, they were much more cautiously optimistic. They talked about working together to see if they can get some kind of a deal by tomorrow that Congress could vote on.

LYDEN: Ari, yesterday, we heard from the president. Where is he in all of this?

SHAPIRO: He's really urging Congress to vote on something - anything. And his message is if they can't reach a deal that they're willing to vote on, then they should give an up or down vote to the president's last offer, which would've extended tax cuts for income up to $250,000 as well as extending unemployment benefits. Here's part of what he said in his weekly address this morning.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If an agreement is reached on time, then I'll urge the Senate to hold an up or down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job and lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction.

SHAPIRO: And, Jacki, that would mean no filibuster in the Senate, which sounds like something Republicans are probably unlikely to agree to if Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid can't reach a deal on their own.

LYDEN: So what happens if there's no vote tomorrow night?

SHAPIRO: Well, if there's no vote tomorrow night, it looks like we're probably going through this midnight Monday deadline. The House and Senate are both back in session on Sunday, and they have vote scheduled for 6:30. But if the Senate hasn't passed anything by tomorrow afternoon, it's unlikely that the House will be voting on anything at 6:30. And then Monday, if there's no bill to vote on, it looks like we're going over this deadline.

LYDEN: Hmm. That's NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. Whatever happens, Ari, I know you'll keep us posted. And I'm wishing you a happy New Year.

SHAPIRO: Thanks. You, too, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.