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We have the outline of a tax-and-spending deal approved overnight by the Senate. It passed shortly after the fiscal cliff deadline, when higher taxes and spending cuts formally took effect. Under this plan, taxes would go up for wealthy Americans, generally meaning individuals making more than $400,000.
INSKEEP: They would stay the same for everybody else. Scheduled spending cuts have been put off for a couple of months to allow more negotiation, and now this deal goes to the House of Representatives, where Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma is Republican deputy whip, a member of the leadership. And he's on the line.
Congressman, welcome back to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: Hey. It's great to be with you.
INSKEEP: Is this a good deal?
COLE: Yes, it is. You know, from a, you know, standpoint of the American people, it gives them tax certainty. It protects almost every single American from a major tax increase. You know, like every other deal, people could quibble with the individual items, but I think given the alternatives, this is not only an excellent deal - it, you know, is something, honestly, Republicans can be pleased with. It's a compromise on both sides, and I don't think it's going to have a difficult time getting passed.
INSKEEP: Well, people who have been closely following this have known that you have called for Republicans approving something a little like this for quite some time. Other members of the House of Representatives have been more skeptical, though. As somebody who has to count the votes, are there the votes for this plan in the House Representatives?
COLE: I really believe there are. We haven't done a formal whip count today. We'll have a conference at 1 o'clock this afternoon. But, again, this is a pretty big win. And we have to remember, obviously, that Democrats will be bringing a considerable number of votes to the table, as well, because it is an agreement between the two parties. So I really don't anticipate too much of a problem.
INSKEEP: And if you did a big wing of the Republican conference, the Republican side of the aisle who rejected this, you would not refuse to bring it to the floor?
COLE: No, I don't think so at all. That's, again, my opinion. I've not talked to the speaker or anybody in leadership, but you look at the parameters of this deal, and it's a very good deal, in my opinion. From a Republican standpoint, it makes, you know, it makes 80-plus, close to 90 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent for, you know, 98-plus percent of the American people. That's something we couldn't do when George Bush was president and we had both houses of Congress. So - and the alternative, of course, would be a tax increase on everyone. So I don't see why in the world most Republicans wouldn't vote for this. I think we'll get a very strong majority.
INSKEEP: And do you think - given that it is New Years Day, that the fiscal cliff deadline has already passed and that the financial markets will open tomorrow - do you think you need to get this done today?
COLE: Well, in my opinion, yes. You know, I think when you actually arrive at a deal and the Senate's acted, honestly, the longer you leave a deal sitting on the table, the more somebody finds something that they don't like. And so this is one of those cases where I think speed is a virtue. And I do think that markets are a factor in this consideration, as well.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Congressman Cole: This is a smaller deal than some people had talked about, as you know very well. And the spending cuts that are taking effect legally today, they have been put off under this deal, but not ended. They have not been replaced or reworked in any way. And, of course, there's a battle over the debt ceiling looming in the next couple of months. Are the bigger battles actually ahead, here?
COLE: They actually are, Steve. You know, I think you've put your finger right on the problem. Republicans have argued all along this is a spending problem. This is, you know, something that's going to take spending cuts and take entitlement reform. I think those things are clearly on the table. And honestly, from a Republican standpoint, you're in a much stronger position now, because the tax issue is off the table. It's basically been settled. And the only other place for revenue, from the president's perspective, would be a major overhaul of the entire tax code - something we need to do, something we want to work on with the president. But, you know, the chances of raising taxes now on anybody anytime soon, absent some sort of deal that lowers rates as it eliminates deductions, is really nil.
INSKEEP: Do House Republicans believe it would be responsible to use the debt ceiling, the federal debt limit as leverage to negotiate and pressure the president, as happened in 2011?
COLE: Well, they think the debt ceiling is something that ought to be approached and appropriated. Look, just willy-nilly raising the debt limit, when you're running trillion-dollar deficits - and we've done that for four consecutive years - that, I think, is the irresponsible thing. You've got to force the country to the table - the Democrats to the table - in terms of: What are the tough decisions we're going to make on spending?
So, you know, the Boehner rule, which is we're certainly willing to raise the debt ceiling, but we want to offset with long-term cuts or reforms of comparable or more money I think will probably apply in this case.
INSKEEP: And just in a couple of seconds: Are Republicans still going to be fighting for more defense spending? Because those big defense cuts are still scheduled to take effect in a couple months.
COLE: Well, we're going try and defend, I think, as many defense as they can. We've already cut defense spending by about a half-a-trillion dollars over the next decade, and there's literally going to be 75,000 fewer soldiers, 20,000 fewer Marines - I can go through the statistics for you - within five years. So we've already had a round of cuts. I think more cuts would be irresponsible. And, frankly, that's one way the president, also, is concerned, as commander-in-chief. He's not looking for a smaller military than he's already got.
INSKEEP: All right. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, as a pleasure. Thanks.
COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.