And one of these days we'll find those WMDs too ...
In case you were wondering how the villagers are seeing the "Grand Bargain", here's a good example:
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Ken Duberstein, John Podesta and David Gergen, all White House hands, all of whom have served in second terms.
John Podesta, what does President Obama do to ensure that the United States does not fall off the fiscal cliff? You've already seen there is much debate about this.
And many people on the left, Paul Krugman in the New York Times, are saying do not make a deal just for the sake of making a deal. Hold out and call the Republicans' bluff.
PODESTA: Well, I think that this election set this up as one in which the president one on the basic argument that taxes needed to go up, particularly for the wealthiest Americans, they need to pay a little bit more to try to solve the deficit problem. And I think he's got to stick with that. The one thing he was clear about was that he wasn't going to sign a bill that extended high-end tax rates from the Bush era.
Now, he's going to have to negotiate with the Republicans. If they have ideas on how to raise taxes from that group, I'm sure he's willing to listen to them.
But I think, right now, he can't -- he's got to be successful in creating this fiscal framework that gives him the revenue he needs to make the investment that he wants for the things like education, infrastructure, science and tech that he talked about to the American people.
So he's going to have to, I think, be tough, but prepared to compromise and he's going to have to be clear to the American people what his priorities are.
ZAKARIA: David Gergen, people -- you know the Republicans already keep saying that there's no mandate here, but my reading is close to John Podesta's which is the president did talk about the need for investment, about the need for education, science, research, infrastructure and he talked about how to pay for it.
Will that translate into leverage on Capitol Hill?
GERGEN: Some, but not a lot and I think that -- you know the truth is the president clearly campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy. He obviously campaigned about protecting education and infrastructure. And he ought to be tough on that as John says.
But I think the big question is how do you -- how do we avoid the cliff? I think we can. I'm optimistic we can. I think people in Washington often are dumb, but they're not crazy and they're simply not going to take us into another recession I think.
But the danger is this; the president has to decide, look, do I want a grand bargain or do I want to isolate and fight it out over this tax increase on the wealthy.
I think if we get hung up on that issue, there is a higher chance we're going to go over the cliff. The issue ought to be how do we get revenue that's going to help settle this grand bargain?
And if the Republicans -- if you can get Republicans to agree to a framework that really will seriously increase revenue and increase the tax burden on the wealthy, the president's got to keep on that. But do it within the framework that also agrees to some sort of sense of entitlement reform and put that into next year.
I think that's a much more productive way than if we isolate on this question of whether we're going to raise questions on the elite, both sides are now dug in and we could easily go over the cliff.
I think it ought to be wrapped into the bigger discussion of how do you get revenue.
ZAKARIA: Ken, so far, what I've been struck by is the Republicans have been remarkably flexible on the issue of immigration. Even Sean Hannity now says he has -- his position, in that wonderful Washington word, has evolved.
Fascinating Villager gobbledygook, don't you think?
And he -- but no such evolution on the issues of taxes. Both Boehner and Mitch McConnell said tax rates simply will not go up period.
DUBERSTEIN: Yes, but I think you're missing the second part of the sentence which is that they are willing to consider new revenue. There are lots of ways, in that old expression, to skin a cat.
And I thought John Boehner the other day was quite emphatic in saying we are open to new revenues under the right framework.
Dave Gergen is absolutely correct. I think this is a two-step deal. I think it is too ambitious with too little time to get to the grand bargain in the so-called lame duck session of the Congress.
But I think that you can scrape together enough to avoid sequestration and avoid the fiscal cliff or fiscal slope. Remember, they have to come up with only about $100 billion. I know that sounds weird, but $100 billion, to get -- to set that aside.
Between spending cuts and perhaps some loophole closes, I think they can raise it. But you can't confuse that with the long-term deal.
ZAKARIA: John Podesta, does the math work though, which is if you close deductions for the wealthy people, can you raise enough revenue? I think that's the fundamental question.
PODESTA: Well, I think, you know this became a really contentious issue in the campaign. I think the only way to do that and to raise enough revenue is to actually take a big bite out of the middle class. That was the import of the Tax Policy Center's analysis of the Romney tax plan.
But this just slayed me:
ZAKARIA: And I think what the Republicans would argue, David, is that the big problem is tax hikes are here to stay and spending cuts tend to fritter away. You know the spending restraint is maintained for a year or two.
Right. Because if there's one thing the congress really hates to do it's cut taxes, particularly for the top earners:
And lord knows it's dead easy to raise money for needed social programs. Just ask the team who negotiated Obamacare. At lest Gergen has some sense that it goes both ways (although it doesn't...)
ZAKARIA: Is there a way to do a deal where you put in place super majority or (inaudible)? That is to say, you know, if you now want to go outside of this framework and raise spending again, you need 66 percent votes.
Something like that so that Republicans are assured that you don't have a two-tier system where the tax hikes are permanent, but the spending cuts are a one-year deal.
GERGEN: That would be a very smart way to go. I think you have to put some protections in there for both sides, frankly. And that has a lot of merit to it.
So, there you have it. Back to the magical, pain free solution (for people with money) known as "tax reform."
I come back to this notion about whether the -- I think it's perfectly fair for the president to say we need more revenue and, within that context, you know, I promised the American people the burdens would go -- the wealthy would have to pay more.
But you can do that within the framework of Simpson-Bowles. Simpson-Bowles didn't ask for tax increases or increases in the rates. What it asked for was to go through tax reform and lower the rates in fact.
This is why, my friends, we can't have a nice country. Our top opinion leaders are caught in a feedback loop of misinformation, delusion and self-interest. We just had an election and nobody voted for the president because they wanted to cut vital programs. But that's what everyone says has to happen right now in a lame duck session because congress and the White House over two administrations passed some laws and made some agreements that are all expiring and they are treating those expiration dates as if they were handed down by Moses and can only be fixed if we slash debt immediately. That's nonsense from beginning to end.