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Obama to Speak on Fiscal Cliff; Nor'Easter Aftermath; Romney Concedes Florida; Boehner Speaks on Economy, Looming Fiscal Cliff; Facing Up to the Fiscal Cliff; Florida Voter Problems.

Aired November 09, 2012 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": It's a beautiful town.

I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me today.

"CNN Newsroom" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Thank you, Carol. So nice to see you.

And nice to see you, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 11:00 on the East Coast, 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast

And leave it to Congress to engineer what they call a solution that sets up an even bigger crisis. The so-called fiscal cliff that's now only 52 days away was supposed to be just a threat, an incentive for lawmakers to get their gear on and make some tough choices a year ago.

Well, now, those choices are going to fall to a newly re-elected president and a lame-duck Congress. And the prospects? Well, the president plans to talk about those prospects in his first public, post-election comments scheduled for about two hours from now at the White House.

And that's exactly where we have positioned CNN's Brianna Keilar who is standing in the wind and waiting for the words.

So, what are we expecting to hear? Are we expecting to hear specifics and talk about the fiscal cliff or just about a kumbaya moment that the whole country really needs?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think definitely he's going to talk about the fiscal cliff, lay out the consequences of going over it, urge Congress to work together and find a solution, Ashleigh.

But no, we're not expecting to hear specifics. He is going to be talking to an audience, which includes a lot of middle-class supporters and he is going to be giving remarks, but he's not going to be answering questions from the press.

So, this is sort of a safe zone for him to explain the consequences and, also, to say that the middle class cannot be hurt by tax increases, part of his pledge, obviously, through his re-election and he'll point to the fact that he feels most Americans support that.

So, that's really what we're expecting to hear. But no, no specifics. This is really setting the scene as we go into these key negotiations here in the coming weeks.

BANFIELD: Speaking of those negotiations, the president and the speaker of the House have tried to make something work between them and failed, so, presumably, they're going to have at her again.

And the speaker for his part has said perhaps in a nuanced way that he's not going to rule out a tax -- or he will rule out a tax-rate increase, but not a revenue increase.

Is this potentially the key to making these two positions come together?

KEILAR: This may be the key. Because it almost seems like what you're hearing from President Obama and from Speaker Boehner are mutually exclusive, but it is key that speaker Boehner said, revenue increase is on the table.

Because while the tax rate, he doesn't want that to go up, there may be a way to finagle it so that you could actually increase tax dollars, if you tackle this through tax reform, if you eliminate deductions, for instance, close loopholes, get rid of some tax credits, you could actually make some folks effective tax rates higher without actually increasing the tax rate of the bracket that they're in.

But at the same time, these are all just sort of ideas and speculation that we have, Ashleigh, and we really are not to the point where we can really game out exactly what this is going to look like.

BANFIELD: So, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, you're on duty waiting and watching for that, those remarks. And trust me when I say this. You look like you're not at the White House. You look like you're at the (INAUDIBLE) ...

KEILAR: They're actually planting trees here.

BANFIELD: That's nice.

KEILAR: So, there is some change here at the White House. And, yes, the truck parked right behind me.

BANFIELD: Change you can believe in, Brianna Keilar. Thank you. We'll see you at 1:00.

And we want to make sure that you know that you can watch the president's economic statement right here, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, live on CNN. Stay tuned and Brianna will be there for you, as well, for analysis.

About a year-and-a-half ago, the president and the House speaker behind closed doors, we were just talking about this. They came together on this so-called "grand bargain." It was supposed to be all about the country's debt woes, some kind of resolution expected.

If you don't remember it, it might be because that deal, poof, fell apart. Relationship really soured and today here we are again. The president has secured a second term, the speaker is holding on to his post, too, and these two, once again, somehow need to find compromise when it comes to this looming fiscal cliff.

I'm sorry if you're sick of hearing about it, but it is critical. The president and the speaker getting right to work, both of them making remarks today on the economy.

Athena Jones is in Washington. So, Athena, what are we expecting to hear from the speaker? We just heard from Brianna about what we're expecting to hear from the president, so take me to the speaker's remarks.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ashleigh. What we're likely to hear from Speaker Boehner, what we've been hearing, not just the last few days, but the last several months, more than a year, as you guys just talked about.

You know, we know what the sticking points are. One of the major ones is whether to raise taxes for the wealthy. This is something the president ran on.

Speaker Boehner spoke with ABC. Let's listen to what he had to say about that interview.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Raising tax rates is unacceptable. And, frankly, it couldn't even pass the House.

Putting increased revenues on the table, but through reforming our tax code. And I would do that if the president were serious about solving our spending problem and trying to secure our entitlement programs.


JONES: So there you have it. He said raising tax rates is unacceptable. This is really the new-slash-old mantra. He says, again, revenues are on the table, but they have to come from the right place, which means tax reform and not raising rates on the higher earners, so we're likely to hear more of that today.

I did speak with one of his spokesmen who said, right now, no scheduled meetings between principles or staff. We're going to hear him continue to make these same points, most likely, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thank you for that and we'll continue to follow and wait for those remarks, too.

So, now I'm going to move on to this. It's been a week and a half since that massive storm, Sandy, pounded the northeast and a nor'easter then followed right up, dumping snow on an already devastated area. The numbers are still staggering. More than a half million people still without power. They are not one bit happy about it, either.

In fact, just minutes ago, people got onto the streets and grabbed the mike and went to this ad hoc briefing on Long Island and essentially gave officials what we like to call in New York "an earful." Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a crisis of epic proportions. This is a natural disaster. We are here as one community together to send a message. We've had enough.

LIPA is disgusting. The management of LIPA should be fired from top to bottom.

And Governor Cuomo, we have a message for Governor Cuomo. Send the National Guard in here today to turn the power back on!


BANFIELD: So obviously, you can see the frustration and here's why, as well.

On top of all of this, gas lines are lasting longer than a work shift for so many people. It's the reality for those trying to just get back to some semblance of day to day living.

Today, in an effort to tackle this fuel shortage, there is more gas rationing to announce. New York City and Long Island are following New Jersey's lead and putting in place a system that's based on your license plate number.

It's going to alternate days that drivers can buy gas and, actually, most people are thinking, this is a good move.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Waiting in line here, eight and a half hours, is not fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it's smart because the lines will be half as long.

I mean, granted, if it's an emergency and you really need gas on a certain day, you may be out of luck, but for your average person, I think it would be smart.

BANFIELD: More than 5,000 people, according to the Red Cross, spent last night in shelters -- 5,000 -- and we're coming up to two weeks, folks. Seventy different shelters, too.

And FEMA trailers, apparently now are en route to those areas in New York and New Jersey that were so incredibly devastated. And then there's this. Finally -- and I'm happy to report this -- there is a break in the weather coming. Thank God. Forecast for this weekend? Nice and calm. It's supposed to be sunny with temperatures expected to head into the 50s and even near 60s which will be a relief to people who are literally freezing.


BANFIELD: The president has 29 new electoral votes today. Florida's! It's not because the results are actually official, I'm sorry to say. It's just because Mitt Romney's team finally just conceded the state.

But the count continues there today, three days since the election. Maybe they regret cutting early-voting days from 14 days to eight. Maybe they don't.

Regardless, voters waited hours, hours upon hours, in lines that meandered for blocks. Ballots upwards of 10 pages were the longest in the state's history.

I watched as one voter actually fainted in the hot sun, waiting hours without any shade, just to cast her vote.

The president was declared a winner and Floridians were still waiting to vote. Is this moral? Is it legal? Is there a head that needs to roll or several?

The president said officials need to, quote, "fix it," and he said it in his victory speech.

Miami-Dade's County mayor, Carlos Gimenez admitted on our show yesterday that everyone need answers and that things had to change.


MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: Without a doubt, we had some operational issues that we have to take care. We are -- I'm convening a special panel to look at all of the issues that happened at our election sites and why it happened.

And I need to -- OK, I need to apologize for those fine people, those fine voters in Miami-Dade County who stood in line for six hours, but I also have to tip my hat to them for standing in line for six hours and doing the right thing and voting.

So, thank you. It's not going to happen again in Miami-Dade County.


BANFIELD: Not going to happen again. We heard that back in the year 2000. So yesterday, day one, we reached out to this man, the governor, Rick Scott.

His office declined our invitation for an interview, saying, thanks for the invite, but the governor's schedule is already set today.

All right. Today is day two. His office declined again, saying, he is not available today.

So while election workers keep counting ballots, we're going to keep counting, too. We're going to count the days. How many days until Governor Rick Scott answers our questions and agrees to an interview about the debacle in Florida.

That being said, his secretary of state, Ken Detzner, tried, but was unable to make it on our show yesterday, but as promised, he is here today. And, Mr. Secretary, I thank you heartily for joining me to answer these very tough questions.

I hate to say you are almost this year's Katherine Harris, but for the counting -- it's not about the counting, it's about the lines and difficulties in voting.

It is a simple question off the bat. How could this happen in 2012 in a state in the United States that people would wait six hours and many would just abandon and not vote at all?

KEN DETZNER, SECRETARY OF STATE, FLORIDA: There are two simple answers to that question. One is, the length of the ballot here in Florida.

In Dade County -- Miami-Dade County, the length of the ballot is 12 pages. It had 11 constitutional amendments that had to be printed in full and it had 10 local referendum issues, in addition to the presidential election and local offices. So, the length of the ballot.

And, two, the enthusiasm of the electorate. The turnout was unprecedented. It was a record year of turnout. More people voted before election day using absentee ballots and voting early than ever before in our history.

And I think we should compliment the voters for their enthusiasm, for their commitment to democracy, but the fact is, elections are an administrative function and if a decision or judgments are made that the turnout is not going to be as high as it is or it's going to be higher than it would be, you have to have enough offices open. You have to have enough ballot spaces. You have to have enough voting tabulators.

And those are issues that are administrative. And if the governor has directed me to present to him in conversations here in the very near future, solutions to the problem so it never happens again.

He called me election night, said I want to know what we need to do and we're going to do it, so we're moving ahead, lesson learned.

BANFIELD: I'm glad to hear lesson learned, but what I want to know why you did not know this going into this. Florida has been the laughing stock of this country when it comes to problems at the ballot box. Your particular jurisdiction is down in the south and not only that, but the I-4 corridor.

So, as I get it, and you'll have to help me out here, because there is a lot of red tape, but the Miami-Dade elections office says they report to the mayor, Carlos Gimenez, on our air yesterday, who passes everything up to the Florida division of elections, headed by you.

So, ultimately, are you not responsible to make sure that the right mechanisms are in place to deal with the census tells you? You've got a lot of people and they're going to come out and vote. You need to handle them.

DETZNER: Yes, the answer to that question is Florida has a decentralized system of election. Independent supervisors, except for Dade County are elected. The Dade County supervisor is appointed and they are the chief administrators on election day and leading up to election day to run the office.

They report their results of elections to the secretary of state. I am the chief elections officer and, when issues like this come up and the governor calls and said, I want answers, we can fix these problems (INAUDIBLE) ...

BANFIELD: That's after the fact. I respect that. That's after-the- fact repairs. I'm talking about before the fact.

Look, you all decided with a Republican legislature to cut the early voting days from 14 to 8. For whatever reason you did that, do you regret making that choice, so that all of those people who didn't get to the polls early stuck themselves in line and ended up waiting so long that many people walked away and were disenfranchised.

DETZNER: Well, let me point out that while the days were cut, the number of hours were not. We still maintained 96 hours of voting and it created greater flexibility for the supervisors.

For the first time ever, voters could vote during the day for 12 hours during the day. And I can tell you, I heard feedback from voters going into election day that they like the opportunity to vote either in the morning before work or after work and, frankly, I think the turnout is a good representation of the fact that people liked the voting hours and the flexibility.

BANFIELD: Do you know what, Mr. Secretary? You may have heard from some voters who say they liked that. I'm going to tell you what I heard while I spent 14 hours at a precinct in Miami-Dade and the shortest amount of time it took everybody to vote in that line was two-and-a-half hours.

People showed up at 4:00 a.m. and waited three hours. Most people, all day long ,took four hours to vote and I can't tell you the number of people who told me, they actually tried to vote early.

They tried twice to vote early. They waited in line once for two hours, and abandoned ship. They waited twice in a second line for two hours. And then came to the day of voting and waited three hours.

So, how can you tell me that early voting was successful when so many people told me they couldn't even vote early, because the lines were too long, early? DETZNER: Well, let's talk about the solution. The solution is that, in current Florida law, there is a limitation on the number of locations that supervisors can use during early voting. We need to take a very serious look at that and open up the number of locations.

BANFIELD: OK. So you have this limitation in the law, why did you not accommodate for it? And allow more days, if you didn't have enough places? Seems logical.

DETZNER: Well, again, we were following the law. It appears as though now we need to redress the issue regarding the locations. The governor has asked me to look at that issue. I'll be discussing this with the supervisors of elections.

BANFIELD: OK, locations, good, good. What about the number of days? What about the number of days?

DETZNER: I can tell you this, that the legislature will be asking those questions of me, and I'll be happy to answer those questions, if they want to reconsider that.

But the key here is, locations. Number of hours creates more flexibility. We kept the same number of hours that we had had under a previous model, so I think the real answer is, adding additional locations to accommodate 12 hours of voting for 8 days before the election.

And let me also point out that that change in the election law allowed, for the very first time, mandated voting on Sunday. We didn't have that before, it was optional. Now it's mandated.

So, I think we have gone a long way in increasing voter participation. The data shows that. The fact is, the number-one issue that we need to resolve is more locations for early voting.

BANFIELD: Mr. Secretary, let me ask this. With regard to more locations, and I'm going to press you on the continuation of this question about shorter days for early voting.

The former governor, Republican governor who is now an independent, Charlie Crist, said that this was unconscionable and he said that there is no other -- indefensible, he said, indefensible, that there was no other reason for cutting back these early voting days, other than to disenfranchise voters.

I've got to ask you this. With criticism like that, are you sorry to all of those people in your state who barely got to vote, or who had to watch the president being declared the winner while they were standing in line and wait two more hours to cast their ballots?

And they still don't know if Allen West is going to keep his position in the House. Are you sorry?

DETZNER: I can say that it was a learning experience ...

BANFIELD: Are you sorry? DETZNER: ... that we are listening to constituents and that we're going to make a change. I think people expect a change. I think we could have done better, we will do better and we'll make it the best we can next time.

And I want to remind you and I want to remind al of the listeners that voting and getting the votes counted correctly is equally as important as making sure that we have efficiencies in our election process.

It's maybe going to cost some money to have additional sites open, but we're planning on doing that. I can tell from the leadership in the legislature and this governor, this problem is going to be solved.

BANFIELD: I hope it's going to be solved. I got a sunburn down there waiting to get all those people into the polling places.

Sir, I really appreciate you facing the music and coming on and speaking to me today. I would love it if you would pass on the message to your governor, Rick Scott.

I've asked him twice, and I'm going to keep the count going until he comes on and faces this music, too, because the rest of the country cannot believe that this happened in Florida again.

Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir.

DETZNER: I want to -- I want to personally extend an invitation for you to come to our next election and see how Florida knows how to do it right.

BANFIELD: Are you trying to kill me? Do you have any idea what a day I had had on the 6th, Mr. Secretary? I'm going to scoot only because we've got -- go ahead.

DETZNER: What a better place to spend a day than sunny South Florida?

BANFIELD: You're right. You're right because you know what? We dealt with a nor'easter up here.

Mr. Secretary, thank you. I'm going to scoot over to Capitol Hill, only because the speaker of the House is going to trump you for a moment.

He's speaking live for the opening of the pro forma Congress. Let's listen to John Boehner.


BOEHNER: ... that can pass the Congress.

And with that, I'll be happy to answer some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) happen? Do you think when they start talking about some of these revenues (INAUDIBLE) Duncan from South Carolina (INAUDIBLE) you said in your conference call to members the other day (INAUDIBLE) some of these issues because there's already a lot of skepticism (INAUDIBLE)?

BOEHNER: Well, when the president and I have been able to come to an agreement, there has been no problem in getting it passed here in the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've outlined your goal of not having tax rates go up (INAUDIBLE) you didn't lay out a deficit goal. The president talked about primary balance by 2017. What is the deficit goal that you have in mind (INAUDIBLE)?

BOEHNER: Well, clearly, the deficit is a drag on our economy and we can't continue to spend money we don't have.

I don't want to box myself in. I don't want to box anybody else in.

I think it's important for us to come to an agreement with the president, but this is his opportunity to lead.


BOEHNER: Nope. Whoop, whoop, nope, nope. You violated the rules.


BOEHNER: Disqualified.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, notably, the other day, you made a point of including new revenues on the -- at least on the table.

Can you give us an idea (INAUBIBLE) where you're going with that, because if tax rates are not on the table. Are you talking about going after deductions?

BOEHNER: It's clear that there are a lot of special interest loopholes in the tax code, both corporate and personal. It's also clear that there are all kinds of deductions, some of which make sense; others don't.

And by lowering rates and cleaning up the tax code, we know that we're going to get more economic growth. It will bring jobs back to America. It will bring more revenue.

We also know that if we clean up the code and make it simpler, the tax code will be more efficient.

The current code only collects about 85 percent of what's due the government and it's clear that if you have a simpler, cleaner, a fairer tax code, that efficiency, effectiveness and efficiency of the tax code, increases exponentially.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, the president won re-election. The Republicans were basically unable to get any seats in the Senate. More people voted for Democrats in the House than Republicans.

Why do you have any leverage whatsoever?

BOEHNER: There's a Republican majority here in the house. The American people re-elected the Republican majority and I'm proud of the fact that our team, in a very difficult year, was able to maintain our majority.

There are a lot of races out there, outstanding, but it's clear that as a political party, we've got some work to do and I think the principles of our party are sound.

You know, we believe in individual responsibility. We believe in empowering our citizens. We believe in the American dream and want that dream for everyone.

But how we talk about who we are as a party and -- is -- clearly, conversations are under way and will continue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, on a different issue, do you have a -- do you plan to have a vote next week on the Russia trade of human rights legislation.

BOEHNER: You'll have to ask Mr. Cantor. I don't schedule the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, is it fair to say you could use the raising of the debt limit in early 2013 as leverage on the fiscal cliff?

BOEHNER: It's an issue that's going to have to be addressed, sooner rather than later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, following on Jake's question, a number of exit polls Tuesday night said that there were overwhelming number of Americans, 60 percent or more, who favored raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Will you be guided by that principle at all when you sit down to do this deal?

BOEHNER: Listen, the problem with raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans is that more than half of them are small-business owners.

We know from Ernst & Young, 700,000 jobs would be destroyed. We also know that it would slow down our economy.

This is about the -- the number one issue in the election was about the economy and jobs. Everyone wants to get our economy moving again. Everyone wants to get more Americans back to work again.

Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want.

Donovan (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, what are you looking for in terms of -- on the entitlement side? Are we talking about restraining the growth of Social Security and Medicare? Are you looking for changes in both those programs?

BOEHNER: Listen, we've got -- we're spending $1 trillion more than what we take in. You can't continue to do that.

This is year two of a 25-year demographic bubble that wasn't like anyone couldn't see it coming. Ten thousand baby boomers like me retiring every day, 70,000 a week. It's 3.5 million this year and this is just the second year of the 25-year baby-boom bubble.

And it's not like there's money in Social Security or Medicare. It -- this has to be dealt with. So, everything, everything on the revenue side and on the spending side has to be looked at.


BOEHNER: No, no. I wasn't calling on you, my goodness. I'm not blind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, immigration, what is on the table?

BOEHNER: No, the young lady here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just wanted to go back to your comments last night on immigration. You spoke optimistically about the chance of getting immigration reform.

Does that -- when you said comprehensive immigration reform, are you endorsing a pathway to citizenship?

BOEHNER: I'm not talking about a 3,000-page bill. What I'm talking about is a common sense, step-by-step approach that would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system.

But again, on an issue this big, the president has to lead. I think members on both sides of the aisle want to resolve this issue. The president is going to have to lead here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you endorsing a pathway to citizenship?

BOEHNER: I'm not going to get into any of the details of how you would get there. It's just time to get the job done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, it sounds like you're talking about setting up a framework for next year to do tax reform and entitlements, but now, you need to deal with the sequester, the AMT, the Medicare problem. And you have spoken or there's a concept of a down payment. Can you go into a little bit more about what you expect that to be?

BOEHNER: No, I really would rather not do that, because I don't want to limit the options that would be available to me or limit the options that might be available to the White House. There are a lot of ways to get there. And I don't really want to preclude anyone who might have a good idea about how we move forward. But it's clear -- it's clear that we've got to fix our broken tax system, and we've got to deal with our spending problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the core principle you would need to pay for turning off the sequester immediately, or could that be taken part of a bigger deal?

BOEHNER: Nice try.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, does calling it tax reform give you a better way of selling it to your caucus in terms of increasing revenues versus something that is revenue-neutral, which is a mantra we've heard in the past?

BOEHNER: We've had this discussion over the course of the last year and a half. As you all know, when the president and I were attempting to deal with this problem a year and a half ago, there were revenues on the table. And you can produce revenue and put revenue on the table through fixing our broken tax system, getting our economy going again and getting more Americans back to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would it be easier to sell --


BOEHNER: Thanks, everybody.

BANFIELD: Well, there you have it. There you have it. Speaker Boehner walking out after fielding a few questions and just making a couple of remarks, which, by the way, you missed, because we had the Florida secretary of state on live, which was very important. But we will have those comments for you. But remember this phrase, "fixing the broken tax system." That may be the new mantra of the speaker as we try to figure out how to get these two parties together to avoid the fiscal cliff. Raising revenue without raising taxes, fixing the broken tax system.

You know who is really good at this? Two shot.


That one. Christine Romans.

Coming out of the break, we'll hear comments and I'll get you to weigh in on what you thought of some of those key buzz words.


BANFIELD: I saw you nodding.

Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: We want to welcome our CNN viewers from around the world.

There is a fiscal cliff looming in this country and the president and speaker of the House have got to figure out how to get along before Congress is going to be able to get along and follow their lead. To that end, the speaker addressed the public from Capitol Hill, in fact, and specifically spoke to the fiscal cliff.

Let's listen to some of those comments.


BOEHNER: You know, Wednesday, I outlined a responsible path forward to avert the fiscal cliff without raising tax rates. About 24 hours after I spoke, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that the most harmful consequences of the fiscal cliff come from increasing tax rates. According to Ernst and Young, raising the top rates would destroy nearly 700,000 jobs in our country.

The members of our majority understand how important it is to avert the fiscal cliff. It's why the House took action earlier this year to replace the sequester with other types of cuts, and is also why over the summer we passed a bill to extend all of the current tax rates for one year, so that we had time to overhaul our tax code. And it's why I outlined a responsible path forward where we can replace the spending cuts and extend the current rates, paving the way for entitlement reform, as well as tax reform with lower rates.

2013 should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform. And I'm proposing we avert the fiscal cliff together in a manner that ensures that 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems facing us. This will bring jobs home, result in a stronger, healthier economy. And a stronger, healthier economy means more Americans working and more revenues, which is what the president is seeking.

This framework can lead to common ground, and I hope the president will respond today in that same spirit. And as I said Wednesday, this is an opportunity for the president to lead. This is his moment to engage the Congress and work towards a solution that can pass both chambers.

And earlier this week, the president and I had a short conversation. It was cordial. I think we both understand that trying to find a way to avert the fiscal cliff is important for our country. And I'm hopeful that productive conversations can begin soon so we can forge an agreement that can pass the Congress.


BANFIELD: So perhaps the most important words were said after the prepared remarks, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: That's right. I don't want to box myself in and I don't want to box anyone else in. It's a critical, critical new position.

BANFIELD: Do you want to know why? I knew you did. After the break, you will.


BANFIELD: So with the fiscal cliff looming and the president re- elected and with the speaker of the House just taking to the airwaves and starting to change the rhetoric somewhat,Christine Romans surgically extracted a couple of choice words --


-- that she says will make all the difference in the conversation going forward.

And they were?

BANFIELD: Well, I thought it was really interesting the House speaker said, "I don't want to box myself in and I don't want to box oh anyone else in." That to me, Ashleigh, is signaling this is the beginning of negotiations and that they're -- there's going to be some give and take. He was also talking very, very clearly about a simpler, clearer, fairer tax code. You hear this a lot from business people and from conservatives and Republicans. That's what they want. They want a simpler, clearer, fairer tax code. And he said there is a broken tax system, and we have a spending problem. If you can raise more revenue, quote, unquote, "raise more revenue" -- means get more money out of our pockets and company pockets -- but maybe it simple and fair, maybe it's a sell, maybe it's a sell in the GOP.

# So one of those reporters -- and I'm sorry, I didn't know his name -- suggested if he just called it tax reform, could he sell that to some of the more entrenched in his caucus?

ROMANS: So that's a branding issue. How are you going to brand what could be higher revenues or higher taxes for some quarters? You're going to brand it as tax reform? At the same time, though, look, the House speaker is very clear. He doesn't think you create jobs by raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. He doesn't.

BANFIELD: He says many of those are small businesses, they're not individuals.

ROMANS: He says many of them are small businesses. The White House was -- goes to pains to point out, it's a small percentage that are small businesses. But the Republicans often say it's the psychological of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

But the fact of the matter is, everyone agrees, you can't keep spending so much more than you bring in over and over and over again. And that's where the House speaker got the most passionate when he was talking about the aging baby boomers and entitlement reforms and how much money we are spending that we're not bringing in.

BANFIELD: So and now I'm starting to read, prominent liberals, suggesting that cliff is -- do you have that graphic? Can we show -- it's adorable. But -- yes.


ROMANS: It's a representation, a representation.

BANFIELD: It's a representation. But these prominent liberals, Robert Reich, former treasury secretary, and also Paul Krugman, in "The New York Times," suggesting it's not so bad.


ROMANS: And Van Jones has said this to me and so has -- Howard Dean has said this, and Robert Reich just tweeted the truth, reducing the federal deficit is not the top voter priority. It's restoring jobs and growth. "There is no fiscal cliff," he writes. "It's a gentle hill."

Well, here's the fact. You don't get $7 trillion of cuts on tax increases on day one. No one says that. What you get on day one is you revert back, the Bush tax cuts disappear, everyone's taxes go up, you have budget cuts across the board, and suddenly you have the entire economy resetting to these new levels. And over 10 years, you have $7 trillion in cuts.

Let me give you an example. Simpson/Bowles is $4 trillion between now and 2020. That's well thought-out and strategic --

BANFIELD: Surgical?

ROMANS: Surgical, I would say. The fiscal cliff is a big, dull hatchet, and that is not going to create jobs.

BANFIELD: So "CNN Money," you're familiar with them. "Fiscal cliff, as a whole, went into effect next year, could result in a .5 percent in gross domestic product, according to CBO. And that contraction could push employment to 9.1 percent by the end of 2013."


ROMANS: That's right. And you hear liberals say, they would rather see that over the next year, than to give up -- have the president cave again on tax rates.

ROMANS: Well, that's just intransigence on both sides then. Let's hope that the -- again, I keep calling it the Kumbaya moment. Let's hope that it actually plays out.

Christine, excellent. Thank you.

We have lots more ahead. Stick around.



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BANFIELD: So earlier in the program we were talking about the horrible system in Florida that had people sitting in line for up to six hours and then jumping out of the line because of child care issues or work or pesky things that we have to actually function with in life. And whether the secretary of state had some explaining to do or was responsible for it -- I don't know that we got that he was responsible for it. He certainly said that they're going to look ahead and try to fix those problems. But if the Constitution guarantees you the right to vote, did you lose your constitutional rights in Florida if you just couldn't wait six hours? Joining me again today is Wendy Weisner, who directs the Democracy Project at Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

We had to cut you short yesterday because we had so much breaking news, but I wanted to bring you back.

That's the question. Those people who couldn't wait or who passed out -- that nice woman who was taken away by the paramedics -- did they lose their constitutional right. And is there someone actually to blame? And what is the fix and whose head should roll? That's a lot of questions.

WENDY WEISNER, DIRECTOR, DEMOCRACY PROJECT, NYU BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: Yes. This is certainly -- in the leading democracy in the world, we should expect a lot more from our voting system. Every eligible American who shows up to vote should be able to find that there's a place that they can vote, that there's a machine that they can vote on.


BANFIELD: Florida had the only problem that held them until today. We still don't have an official count in Florida. It doesn't matter. Mitt Romney has conceded the state. But it does matter to some of the congressional districts. Down ballots are still a problem.

So Florida is the only place that couldn't stay the census numbers and then logistically put in place the mechanisms by which every member of those, you know, census ticks could get a vote actually cast. Is that the fault of the secretary of state? Is it the fault of the governor? Is it the fault of the legislature? Is it the fault of the county election commissions that actually set up the functionality? Or is there no chain of command that's actually in place?

WEISNER: It's really the fault of all of those. I mean, this is actually a responsibility of every level of government. Florida, like many other states, has a highly decentralized election administration, but that does not relieve responsibility of the secretary of state. He actually has the authority to set uniform rules for voter access across the state. The legislature does so, sets up election laws, and instead of actually expanding voter access this year, they actually cut back.


WEISNER: Not just the early voting. They cut back on voter registration opportunities too. This is -- they have cut back in a number of ways, so this is -- you know, we are going in the wrong direction in Florida. Florida is certainly a national leader in election administration problems.

BANFIELD: Sure does hold us up usually, but not this year. Thank god you and I are sitting here with a president at work today, not waiting on this foolishness in Florida. But when I don't an official taking responsibility for it and saying we messed up, we should have been more proactive, we should have known what was coming, we should have been able to actually put in place the mechanisms by which everyone could exercise their constitutional right, when I don't hear someone taking account for it, how should I believe them when they say we need to fix this?

WEISNER: You need to worry about that. And I wanted to say that it's not just Florida. Florida certainly was the worst example of these problems. But we see these problems across the country. We actually need minimum standards across the country for voter access. We need to upgrade our voting system and especially our voter registration system to solve these problems. We can't just rely on the secretary of state to say we'll take care of it. This is, you know, how many -- this is the third now, presidential election where we have seen this level of problems in Florida.

BANFIELD: Yes, I'm up to my eyeballs in platitudes by this point.

Wendy Weisner, thanks very much for looking into this and joining us again today --

WEISNER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: -- for a little bit longer of a segment. Nice to have you.

Let me just reiterate. This is day two of my invitation to Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Sir, we would really like you to join us on the program and answer for your state and answer as to why we saw what we saw and why, at 11:57 eastern time on Friday, three days after the election, we don't have results, and a whole bunch of people didn't get to vote. And the ones who did, got sunburned and passed out and weren't very happy. Governor Scott, please come on the program and join us.

We'll extend the invitation again on Monday.

For now, thanks for watching. NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL starts right now, after this break.