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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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BALDWIN: I understand you, yourself, have been reaching out to some of the House Republicans on this. Have you spoken to any of them?

ISRAEL: I have. And, you're right, it is tough for a Republican to break with his or her party and sign this petition to give a tax cut to 100 percent of all Americans on the first $250,000. What's tougher, I think, is for them to go home and have to explain to people who are making $100,000, $200,000 that they're not going to get a tax break, that their taxes are going to go up $2,000 in order to protect the richest 2 percent.

Now, look, I personally believe that that $250,000 figure is too low. If you represent a high cost of living area like mine, I think it should be higher. But I'm not willing to go back to Long Island and explain to somebody who's making less than $250,000 that they're going to be held

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: -- now, look, I personally believe that that $250,000 figure is too low. If you represent a high cost of living area like mine, I think it should be higher.

But I'm not willing to go back to Long Island and explain to somebody who is making less than $250,000 that they're going to be held hostage for people making more. Agree on the 250 and get to the higher number.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, so these Republicans though, as you point out, the tougher task is to go back to their constituents. How many do you think you may have coming over to your side? Got a number?

ISRAEL: We put out a -- I think we'll get virtually every single Democrat and we have put out a help wanted hit today. The middle class has a help wanted ad. We need about 30 Republicans who are willing to sign this petition, just force a vote. You could vote against it, but force a vote on tax cuts for at least up to the $250,000, and the only skill necessary is courage.

BALDWIN: Congressman, we have two weeks. You really think you're going to get 30 Republicans to do this?

ISRAEL: I think as we get closer to the fiscal cliff, I think many Republicans will realize it is an indefensible position to go back to their districts and say to 100 percent of their constituents, your taxes are going to go up because I was protecting 2 percent.

BALDWIN: OK, let me ask you about your party because one question is why is it so important to you, to the president, to other Democrats that rates go up on the 2 percent, the wealthiest Americans? Because I know there are a lot of issues at play here, but it seems as though your side will not go anywhere until you get that. Is that correct?

ISRAEL: No, look, what's important to me and to my party is that we reduce our debt. What's important is that we reduce our debt, but not on the backs of middle class and seniors. What's important is that we have debt reduction that is big, bold and balanced. To do that, you have to cut spending. We have already voted for $2 trillion in cuts.

BALDWIN: But you won't budge on that 2 percent. I just want to make crystal clear that's the deal.

ISRAEL: We can negotiate. I'm all for talking and reasonable compromise, but it doesn't look like we're going to be able to get an agreement before Christmas. And this is why people get frustrated with Washington instead of beating each other up where we're not going to agree --

BALDWIN: You don't think an agreement will be reached by end of the year?

ISRAEL: Not on the whole package I think it's getting tougher and tougher. So instead of beating each other up on areas where it looks like it's going to be tough to get agreement, let's just pass areas where we agree.

Everybody agrees at least on a tax cut on the first $250,000, let's pass it. Let's give America's middle class certainty in terms of how much they can spend on their holiday gifts. Let's come back as soon as we can and negotiate the tougher issues. That's just common sense and reasonableness.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about numbers. Let's throw the common sense and courage out the window for now, talk hard numbers. If we can throw up the Dow right now, it has been up, here it is, about 100 points.

And you know, there is an article, Congressman, in the "Washington Post" today, saying that traders think -- they do think, perhaps you don't, in terms of a huge deal, but a deal will be reached before the end of the year.

And there is not this feeling on Wall Street that -- I'm quoting this article, "that a short-term voyage off the cliff would do no lasting harm to the economy." What are you hearing from Wall Street? It sounds like some folks aren't so nervous.

ISRAEL: Well, there is a variety of opinions, diversity of opinions. You know, I've always said show me two economists and I'll show you six different opinions. You know, the opinions are out of my control. What is in my control is this.

Can we get certainty? And, again, we all agree on at least the first $250,000, me, myself, I think it ought to be higher because, again, it should be linked to the cost of living and not some figure.

I think it should be higher. But let's just get agreement and pass the bill where we know everybody does agree. And that's on at least the first $250,000. That gives the market certainty and just as important it gives the middle class certainty.

Right now, this weekend, people are going to go out and buy holiday presents for their family, their friends, loved ones, they need to know whether their taxes are going to go up by $2,000 because we can't get an agreement. Let's at least get that done and then we can move on to the more contentious issues.

BALDWIN: OK, Congressman Steve Israel, appreciate it. Thank you very much joining me from the Hill. After weeks of hiding out in Belize, an American millionaire now on the run is now seeking asylum in Guatemala. Coming up next, why John McAfee's scheduled press conference was suddenly canceled today?

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