The President Explains His Fiscal Cliff Frustrations

So, yeah, NBC's Meet the Press had the biggest guest on this weekend. Just a little ol' guy you may know as the President, who came on to talk about his frustrations with the fiscal cliff, and to quickly touch on Chuck Hagel, the looming gun reform fight, and Benghazi. 

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The fiscal cliff is so bad the President had to come out and sit down with the NBC's David Gregory this weekend on Meet the Press. Does he think we're going to over the cliff like Harry Reid? Well, not exactly. "Well, I think we're going to find out in the next 48 hours what congress decides to do," Obama said, before launching into a layman's explanation of what the stakes of going over the cliff really means. Also, the interview was recorded Saturday afternoon, so we've only got 24 hours left. (Ah!) "I was mildly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," he said. He also explained his plan to introduce an up-and-down vote in the Senate if a deal isn't reached on time. When Gregory asked how accountable the President thought he was for not getting a deal done, the President said he thinks he's done enough to get a deal done. It's the other side that's the problem. "I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain," Obama said. "I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue. I think anybody objectively who's looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans." Ouch. But the fiscal cliff wasn't the only thing they talked about.

He pointed to the day of the Sandy Hook shooting as the worst during his time in Washington so far. "That was the worst day of my presidency, and it's not something I want to see repeated," Obama said. He also didn't sound very confident in the NRA's plan to put armed guards in schools. "I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me," he said. "I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem." Obama explained that he's still supporting raising the regulations on background checks and introducing a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines. But he acknowledged that the only way this is going to get done is if people continue to be passionate about gun reform. "Here's the bottom line: We're not going to get this done unless the American people decide it's important," he said. "Ultimately, the way this is going to happen is because the American people say, 'That's right.  We are willing to make different choices for the country and we support those in Congress who are willing to take those actions.'  And will there be resistance?  Absolutely there will be resistance. And the question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away.  It certainly won't feel like that to me."

Obama disclosed that he's still considering Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. "I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot," Obama said. "He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam - and is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job." Obama acknowledged the controversy surrounding Hagel's homophobic comments that he was forced to apologize for in the lead up to a possible nomination. Obama pointed to it as a sign of attitudes progressing about gays serving in the military. "That's something that I'm very proud to have led," the president added. "And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues."

He also disclosed that they're close to finding the people responsible for the attacks in Benghazi.  "With respect to who carried it out, that's an ongoing investigation. The FBI has sent individuals to Libya repeatedly," the President told David Gregory. "We have some very good leads, but this is not something that I'm going to be at liberty to talk about right now." But he did also admit, after praising the State Department's reaction in the wake of the attacks so far, that there were problems that should have been solved to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place. "My message to the State Department has been very simple, and that is we're going to solve this," he said. "We're not going to be defensive about it. We're not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem."

Sen. Lindsay Graham, of all people, conceded that Republicans need to give into the President on the fiscal cliff and live to fight another day during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "Hats off to the president," Graham said. "He stood his ground. He's going to get tax rate increases... It will be a political victory for the president." But it wasn't a total endorsement, either. He pointed to the upcoming debt deal, like other Republicans who have conceded, as the hill they'll wait to fight on. Also, he kept repeating that the President was going to raise tax rates, as if to make sure it's on record for a future battle. "The president won. The president campaigned on raising rates and he's going to get a rate increase," Graham said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Coburn sounded like he was warming up to the idea of going over the fiscal cliff on CBS' Face the Nation. "There are a lot of disadvantages. One of the advantages will be that the American people are going to see what the real cost of their government is — the actual real cost — for both the very wealthy. The very, very low will have minimal impact on them; it's about $200 a year," Coburn said. He also disclosed he was disappointed that Boehner's plan B bill didn't have a longer shelf life. "I think they made a mistake in not supporting the Plan B, because we would’ve modified it, and we would’ve sent it back, and then they would’ve had to make a decision on it," Coburn said.

Dianne Feinstein sounded like she was open to Medicare reform, while urging Republicans to support gun reforms, during her appearance on Fox News Sunday. Speaking with Lindsay Graham, she explained that she might be open to altering Medicare's structure so long as the reforms would not effect today's seniors. "I think the key to what Lindsey is saying is that you don't effect people at this time who are on these programs," Feinstein said, "but you do it in a way that it's way in the future, so that long term the programs are essentially changed and more constricted. Now that's not entirely popular on my side, but it's realistic." In the interest of giving a little and taking a little, she also asked Republicans to "bite the bullet" on guns. "America has to bite the bullet of what these incidents mean to our people, to our nation and our nation's standing in the world," Feinstein said "When you have someone walking in and slaying in the most brutal way 6-year-olds, something is really wrong." Feinstein announced her plan to re-introduce an assault weapons ban on the Sunday shows a few weeks ago. "This is one effort and other things we should do to try to put weapons under some kind of appropriate authority," she said.

Charles Schumer might be one of the last people still optimistic about getting a deal done, but bless his heart for being that person. He said he was still hopeful for a deal on ABC's This Week. "There's a real possibility of a deal. I've been a legislator for 37 years, and I've watched how these things work. On these big, big agreements, they almost always happen at the last minute. Neither side likes to give up its position," Schumer said. "They eyeball each other until the very end. But then, each side, realizing that the alternative is worse, comes to an agreement," he explained. "So while an agreement is hardly a certainty, I certainly wouldn't rule it out at this last minute." When asked by guest host Jonathan Karl what he thinks the odds of that happening are, Schumer indicated he thinks it's better than 50/50. And, for the record, Schumer reminded everyone that the President campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy. That's why he won, and why it needs to happen in the deal, Schumer explained. "Well, look, we offered that to our Republican colleagues two years ago, when the political landscape was different. They rejected it. And then the president, sticking to $250,000, campaigned on it openly, overtly. He won the election on it overwhelmingly on that issue; 60 percent of the public was with him," Schumer said. "So that is our position. It's a position that brings in more revenues. And what we have learned, as the fiscal situation deteriorated, if you go much higher than $250,000, to raise the rest of the revenues you need, you're going to hurt the middle class as you take away their tax deductions."

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