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Analysis: 'Gang of Eight' Starts On Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

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Hopes are fading on Capitol Hill that lawmakers will reach a deal anytime soon to head off major federal government cuts due to kick in on January 2. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks with WAMU's Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about the latest on the talks. 

On whether the bipartisan 'Gang of Eight' senators, who were said to be close to forging a deal, could do it before the election: "I really don't think so for two reasons. One is that the outcome of the election will really shape the parameters … of any deal they might come  up with," says Hawkings. "The other is … the last time a gang like this got together … Speaker [of the House John] Boehner and President Obama were close to negotiating a deal on their own and it was actually a gang like this that put out their own recommendation and kind of messed up the deal between Boehner and Obama."

Why the Gang of Eight would be heading to Mount Vernon for a meeting next week if they can't reach a deal in the near future: "The real reason is this deal is an enormously complicated thing. To come up with $4 trillion of savings over 10 years requires dozens and dozens of small decisions," Hawkings says. "If they want to avoid those across-the-board cuts, they need to propose individual choices on hundreds of items, some of which are easy, some of which are only slightly tough, some of which are tough and some of which are really tough. They want to get through those first couple or three categories now." 

How the outcome of the election will affect the negotiations: "I would suggest that whichever side dominates the election will have an edge in these talks," Hawkings says. "If President Obama wins this election and Democrats hold the Senate, they will have a little more leverage going into the talks about taxes. And if Republicans win and the new president is Mitt Romney, spending cuts and Medicare changes would be the dominant thing." 

On whether lawmakers will ultimately find a way to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' that is looming: "I don't think hope is fading … I think either way, neither side wants to go over this cliff," Hawkings says. "At worst, they will extend things into next year so the new president and the new Congress can really figure this out."  

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