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Deal Reached on Tax Cuts; WikiLeaks Founder Facing Heat

Aired December 6, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: breaking news. With a tax cut compromise at hand, the president of the United States is due to address the nation only moments from now. The White House may have worked out a deal with Republican leaders. House Democratic leaders, though, warning they won't simply rubber-stamp it. Stand by.

The fugitive WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, makes arrangements to meet with British police, as U.S. authorities warn of significant actions against him. But WikiLeaks may have what they are calling a doomsday plan to be activated as a last resort.

And the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to decide whether 1.5 million women can join a gender bias lawsuit against Wal-Mart -- why big corporations are happy about that decision.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But we begin with the breaking news.

We're waiting for President Obama to come out and make a statement on a tax cut deal. The White House has been making it clear a compromise is in the works. The president already making it clear that it may not be 100 percent what he or the Republicans necessarily want. Sources say the compromise, though, involves this: extending the Bush era tax cuts for all Americans, including the wealthiest, for two more years, extending unemployment insurance benefits that have already expired, and other short-term incentives to try to boost the U.S. economy.

The president today went behind closed doors with congressional Democrats to discuss the negotiations. Some of those Democrats, though, are strongly resisting any such deal.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, they are both standing by.

But let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, first.

Dan, what else are we learning about what the president in the next few minutes is likely to tell the American people?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, I should point out that statement that the president was expected to make was expected to happen at 6:10.

I'm now being told by a White House official that that's being pushed back by just a few minutes or so. But what I'm also being told is that the president will say that there is an imminent deal, not a deal, but an imminent deal on extending those Bush era tax cuts for two years for all Americans.

You might remember that this is something that the president had said for months that he did not want to do for those upper tier, those wealthier millionaires and billionaires because it was simply too expensive, something the country could not afford. It would cost, he said, $700 billion.

I asked a senior administration official about that, why now he says we're now currently in a -- quote -- "era of compromise." So the president will be talking about the tax cuts there and also extending those unemployment benefits for 13 months.

Again, this is something that we even heard from the president today, talking about how this is important for the millions of Americans who are unemployed, especially during this holiday season, providing some relief for them as well, Wolf, and many other incentives that we will hear from the president announced later, perhaps in the next 10 to 20 minutes or so.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. I don't want you to go too far away, Dan.

I want to go to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is standing by.

Brianna, a lot of liberal Democrats, they are not going to support this deal, which involves allowing the tax rates right now to continue for the wealthiest Americans.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, it is safe to say that there are going to be a lot of unhappy Democrats.

We just talked to Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House, as he came back from this meeting at the White House. And he emphasized nothing is final yet. And we also know from a Senate Democratic leadership source that Vice President Biden is going to be coming up here tomorrow for the Senate Democratic Caucus, trying to -- quote -- "defend the deal." That's what this aide told us.

I spoke with a Democratic source who emphasized, hey, we have not signed on to this. This is a deal between the White House and Senate Republicans. But talking to a Senate Republican source, Wolf, also, I got the sense that they're not embracing this yet, that there's a sense that all of these things could change.

And one of the real sticking points that we're expecting could be a big issue for some of those liberal Democrats, particularly in the House, has to do with that estate tax, which would be a 35 percent tax on inheritances above $5 million.

And I have been told that, when you're talking about extending those Bush era tax cuts for wealthy Americans, that those things coupled together are very tough, going to be very tough for liberal Democrats to sign on to. They just wouldn't, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, the first $5 million of any estate would be tax-free; is that what the president is ready to sign on to?

KEILAR: Yes, that it would be above $5 million that you would be paying that 35 percent tax rate, inheritances above $5 million. And it would be tax-free.

This is something that was zeroed out in the Bush era tax cuts. So, it's something that is being reinstated. But as you can see, there's still quite a bit of money that someone wouldn't have to pay taxes on when you are talking about an inheritance.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, I want you to stand by as well.

I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, right now.

Based on everything, Gloria, that I'm seeing and hearing about this deal, this compromise that's being worked out, it all involves keeping tax rates where they are, basically, extending unemployment insurance benefits for those long-term unemployed. I don't see any significant cuts in spending anywhere to pay for -- as they say, to pay for any of this.


BLITZER: Do you see any spending cuts?

BORGER: Nothing. Nothing.

Let's do a little reality check here, Wolf. So the tax cuts would cost more than $100 billion for a couple of years. You extend the unemployment insurance for a year. That's tens of billions of dollars. And we have no deficit reduction here.

We just have a deficit commission, by the way, which just reported last week and said that we are in a complete crisis here. Everybody up on Capitol Hill understands that.

The president understands that. So what are we doing? We're spending more money, Wolf. And I think there may be an opportunity here down the road, at the State of the Union, where the president can say, OK, we had to do this now because of the financial situation we are in. We could not put the brakes on these tax cuts for anyone, but let's use this opportunity. Let's have a deficit summit. Let's talk about reforming the tax code.

And let's do what the American people said they wanted us to do, which is to get the fiscal house in order.

BLITZER: Well, it looks like this deal is not necessarily going to do anything, at least right now.


BLITZER: Stand by, Gloria. I want you to join me in the questioning.

Joining us now, a key Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

You have heard all of these reports, Senator. Are you on board with this compromise that looks like it's in the works?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Well, I want to congratulate the president for focusing in a way and working with both parties, because we shouldn't raise taxes on anyone in the middle of economic times like these.

So, I'm very supportive of the direction this is heading. And, you know, nothing has been finalized yet, Wolf. There will be a number of us who will be visiting tonight with the president. And I am encouraging Democrats to get on board as well.

We are going to meet with our conference in the morning in the Republican Party to go through the specific details. But the good things here is, it doesn't raise taxes on anyone in this country. And that will be the effect come January 1. It deals with the taxes in terms of the death tax, that that will set those rates.

And that was something that was a bipartisan approach through the year with Senator Jon Kyl, Republican, Blanche Lincoln, Democrat, in terms of $5 million as the floor and then 35 percent above that. These are things that are going to help stimulate the economy.

BLITZER: All right. Is any of this paid for?

BARRASSO: The unemployment insurance extension is not paid for. The things we can do to help with increasing tax revenue across the board is to get the economy moving, have more people hiring, people -- more people working. That is what the solution is going to be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So all of this is simply going to raise the national debt, at least right now, for the next 10 years. If they -- if they continue the 35 percent tax rate for everyone, that is estimated to cost the American people $4 trillion, right?

BARRASSO: Well, I have seen those estimates.

The most important thing, that, with a 9.8 percent unemployment rate in this country -- and I think that was a sobering wakeup call for people on both sides of the aisle, and particularly for Democrats on Friday -- is that they know they have to do the right thing for the economy. And that's why I think that what's being discussed now and worked upon is something that will help stimulate the economy, put Americans back to work.

That's the way to solve this, rather than just keeping paying people longer and longer periods of time who are not working. We need to get them back to work.

BLITZER: Hold on second, because Gloria Borger has a question, Senator, for you as well.

Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Senator, I understand what you're saying in the short term, that you have to do this in order to get to get the economy to accelerate. I get that.

But let's talk about phase two, because we did see the deficit commission come out last week with a very serious report. There were three Republicans on that commission who said, you know, I can accept some tax increases if we do tax reform.

Is that something you could sign on to, tax increases with reforming the tax code, to get the deficit down?

BARRASSO: Well, I think, Gloria, the problem in the country is not that we're taxed too little. It's that we spend too much. We need to be responsible. And the thing that -- you know, you're getting to phase two, step two. We haven't even gotten step one finished yet. So, this is still in the works.

BORGER: But we're spending in step one. We're spending money in step one.


BARRASSO: ... still in the works.


BARRASSO: This has not been approved yet. We're working on this and a way to keep working toward growth in the economy, getting people back to work. And with 9.8 percent unemployment, you shouldn't raise taxes on anyone. And I think the death tax, as well as helping people who are unemployed, is the right way to go right now.


BLITZER: The majority, Senator, of Americans disagree with you and the Republican leadership and those Democrats who want to extend all of the tax rates for everyone.

For example, a recent Associated Press/CNBC poll, should you allow the tax cuts to expire for all, 14 percent; allow cuts for people earning over $250,000 a year to expire, but continue for all other, 50 percent; continue tax cuts for everyone, 34 percent.

Most Americans, the exit polls and all the other polls since Election Day, think that the tax rates should go up for wealthier Americans.

BARRASSO: Well, if you ask people, should you raise taxes on anyone during the times of an economic recession, they would say no. So, a lot is how you ask the question.

The bottom line is, we have 9.8 percent unemployment. The president spent a year focused on a health care law, when he should have been focusing on jobs, the economy, the debt and the spending.

And I'm encouraged to see now, Wolf, that the president is working with us to find a solution to help the economy, to help get people back to work, focus where we should be focusing, instead of some of the things that Harry Reid wants to bring to the Senate this week, which is college credits and -- and incentives for illegal immigrants and putting firefighters in unions. There are a number of things we ought to be focused on. And to me, it's jobs, the economy, the debt, and the spending.

And this is a way to do it.

BLITZER: Senator, can you stand by for a few moments? Because I want to continue this conversation. We're awaiting the president of the United States. Do you have a few more moments to join us?

BARRASSO: For you, absolutely, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by.

Gloria, stand by as well.

The president of the United States getting ready to address the nation momentarily. We will have complete analysis on what the president says. Stand by for that.

Also, we're learning new details right now of a doomsday file, as it's called, that's supposed to be opened if the founder of WikiLeaks is arrested or killed. What might be inside it?

And a high-speed drama unlike any other, a dump truck leading police on a 50-mile chase and even more unusual, who's behind the wheel.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States. We're told momentarily, he will be addressing the nation on a deal. It looks like a compromise has been reached with Democratic and Republican leaders. It still has to go before the House and the Senate for legislation, but it looks like they have reached some sort of deal on extending the Bush era tax rates for everyone, including those making more than $250,000 a year.

Senator John Barrasso, one of the leaders of the Republican Caucus in the Senate, is still with us. Gloria Borger is with us as well. All of our reporters are standing by. I just want to get back to this one issue, Senator Barrasso. All the polls show the majority of Americans don't want you to keep those tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. It was 39.6 percent, the highest tax rate under the Clinton administration. It went down to 35 percent during these 10 years or so since the Clinton administration.

And they're saying, overwhelmingly, the rich can afford 4.5 percent more to pay for a lot of these other expenditures. Why are the American people wrong and you're right?

BARRASSO: You know, Wolf, that there are about 750,000 small businesses that are impacted by that, if you raise taxes on those people. And those are the job-creators. And, right now, that's about 50 percent of all of the small business earnings in the country. It's about 25 percent of our entire work force.

So you're talking about millions and millions and millions of Americans working for small business whose are the job-creators in this nation. Those are the ones that are going to be most impacted.

BLITZER: But you know the Congressional Budget Office said the $60 billion a year that it would cost in this, including the richest -- richest taxpayers, in this deal, the $60 billion a year, if you used it other ways, it would create a whole lot more jobs than this way.

BARRASSO: Well, there are different approaches to this.

We just saw what I thought was a failed stimulus package, $800 billion. And there's very little to show for that. So I think this is actually a better way to stimulate the economy, to put people back to work.

And these extensions are a two-year extension. So, you know, in reference to what Gloria had to say a little earlier and phase two, we just need to see what happens two years from now. But at these -- in these economic times -- and, of course, I would have preferred that this extension be permanent, but it's a two-year extension. And in these economic times, I think you shouldn't raise taxes on anyone.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: But, Senator, you have also extended unemployment insurance. And you were very firm, very recently, about not extending unemployment insurance unless you could pay for it.

And now it seems to me that you're signing on to whatever deal we have without paying for unemployment insurance.

BARRASSO: My preference is, it would be paid for, Gloria. I support Scott Brown's approach, the Senator from Massachusetts, who is going to pay for that with unexpended stimulus money, because I think that's a much better way to go.

Obviously, the president has been working closely with members in the Senate and the House to try to find a solution to get the economy going again, with 9.8 percent unemployment. And I think that we're at a phase where we're still going to have additional discussions. So, I say this has not been finalized.

Americans all around the country are going to have a chance to talk about this tonight and tomorrow. And the Senate and House will have to vote on it ultimately, once the final papers are put together. So, we will see how it turns out.

But I think this is something that actually will be good for the country and help our economy overall and get people back to work.

BORGER: If this is the deal, do you think Republicans got the better end of the deal, Senator, in this?

BARRASSO: Well, when people work together and find a solution, it's in the best interests of the country. I don't care who gets the better side of the deal.

The most important thing is we get Americans back to work, we take care of people who are concerned about the death tax and the impact that has. That's something I see with farmers and ranchers and small business owners in Wyoming on a day-to-day basis, talking to people about that. This does help people who are out of work, who need additional help.

There are a number of things that I think are very good in what we're looking at here. And you have to take a look at the entire package and say, is this going to help the country?

BLITZER: All right.

BARRASSO: And I believe it will. And, you know, I don't care who gets the credit.

BLITZER: It sounds, though -- and we will see what the reaction is after the president speaks -- that you and the Republican leadership are going to be happier than a lot of the Democratic leadership.

BORGER: It does.

BLITZER: But that's just my assessment right now.

But we will wait to see what the Democrats have to say. And, most importantly, we will see what the votes are on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senator Barrasso, thanks very much for coming in.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Wolf.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Gloria, don't go too far away.

BORGER: I won't. BLITZER: We have lots to digest.

We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States. He's about to announce the compromise that's been worked out. You just heard Senator Barrasso also say that he and other Republican leaders have been invited to go over to the White House tonight to speak with the president, the president meeting earlier in the day with the Democratic leadership.

He's now getting ready to meet with the Republican leadership after the so-called shellacking the Democrats took, the president saying he wants to have more contact with the Republican leadership. He is going to have more contact in the coming hours tonight.

But, in the meantime, we will stand by to hear what he has to say about this tax deal.

Also, the man behind WikiLeaks reportedly making arrangements to meet with police. We're learning more about a so-called doomsday file that will be opened if he's arrested or killed.


BLITZER: Looks like the president of the United States has worked out some sort of compromise with the Republican leadership in Congress. He's getting ready to address the nation from the White House. We will have live coverage coming up momentarily here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A doomsday plan. The WikiLeaks founder arranges a ticking time bomb of secret files that would send shockwaves, supposedly, around the world if his Web site is taken down.

Plus: female workers vs. Wal-Mart. The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to a rule -- agrees to rule on the landmark case -- why giant corporations are pleased about this.

And a teenager in a dump truck leads police on a wild chase, part of it in reverse. It's "Moost Unusual."


BLITZER: A deal has apparently been reached between the president of the United States and the Republican leadership on extending the Bush era tax cuts for another two years, also extending unemployment benefits.

You're looking at a live picture inside the Old Executive Office Building. It's called now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House. The president will be walking up to that microphone shortly, addressing all of us. We will have live coverage coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, breaking news that we're following. In the meantime, WikiLeaks says a Swiss bank has decided to end its business relationship with the online whistle-blower because the founder, Julian Assange, did not provide proper proof of residence. That puts WikiLeaks in a further financial bind, even as authorities in the U.S. and Britain are stepping up legal pressure.

But WikiLeaks may have a doomsday plan to be activated as a very last resort.

Brian Todd is looking into this for us.

What do we know, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all sorts of pressure on Julian Assange right now. The political pressure over him is white- hot at the moment, some congressional leaders calling Assange a terrorist.

Newt Gingrich says he should be treated as an enemy combatant. But right now, the fight Julian Assange is a legal one. And he apparently has an option at his disposal that has a lot of people very nervous.


TODD (voice-over): The legal wrangling intensifies over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. His lawyer tells the BBC Assange is making arrangements to meet with British police regarding the Swedish arrest warrant for him.

Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities over sex crime allegations. He's denied them. But his lawyer says he's meeting by consent with British police to simply answer questions.

U.S. officials, furious over continued leaks of sensitive information, want a piece of this.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that are, I believe, arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in -- in any way. We're doing everything that we can. We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature.

TODD: But Assange has a countermeasure. Some call it a doomsday file, a poison pill. Assange's own attorney calls it a thermonuclear device. He calls it an insurance file. It's to be opened in the event that he is captured, killed, or WikiLeaks is taken down.

And here to look at it, I'm with Ira Winkler. He's the author of a book called "Spies Among Us." He is a cyber security expert and a former analyst at the National Security Agency.

Ira, we just kind of got into this file. Show us what it looks like, with the encryption.

IRA WINKLER, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: With the encryption, basically, open it up. And if the average person was to look at it, all they would see is a bunch of garbage.

TODD (on camera): How tough is it to de-encrypt this?

WINKLER: If you don't have the password, there are trillions of potential options of recovering the data. You have to go through trillions of trillions of trillions of options to actually get the right sequence of characters back. So that's why the password is so important.

TODD (voice-over): Apparently, only Assange or those very close to him have that password.

When we got into the file, we saw huge reams of characters in what looked like an exotic language. But if something game-changing happens to Assange or WikiLeaks, he'll blast out the password. Assange says more than 100,000 people who have been able to download the archive will get the decrypted information, and the documents could hit the Internet instantaneously.

The file is massive. It's not clear what's in it.

(on camera) His side says this is simply for the historical record. It's to preserve history. What do you call it?

WINKLER: Well, when you have your own lawyer calling it a thermonuclear device, that kind of says you intend to cause damage. He's trying to...


BLITZER: We're going to have to interrupt that report. The president of the United States now getting ready to speak.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... between the two parties. Around kitchen tables, Americans are asking just one question. Are we going to allow their taxes to go up on January 1, or will we meet our responsibilities to resolve our differences and do what's necessary to speed up the recovery and get people back to work?

There's no doubt that the differences between the parties are real, and they are profound. Ever since I started running for this office, I've said that we should only extend the tax cuts for the middle class. These are the Americans who have taken the biggest hit, not only from this recession, but from nearly a decade of costs that have gone up while their paychecks have not. It would be a grave injustice to let taxes increase for these Americans right now. It would deal a serious blow to our economic recovery.

Now, the Republicans have a different view. They believe that we should also make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. I completely disagree with this. A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit.

Economists from all across the political spectrum agree that giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires does very little to actually grow our economy. This is where the debate has stood for the last couple of weeks. And what is abundantly clear to everyone in this town is that Republicans will block a permanent tax cut for the middle class unless they also get a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, regardless of the cost or impact on the deficit. We saw that in two different votes in the Senate that were taken this weekend.

Without a willingness to give on both sides, there's no reason to believe that this stalemate won't continue well into next year. This would be a chilling prospect for the American people, whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1 because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts.

I am not willing to let that happen. I know there's some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can't reach a compromise. But I'm not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. I'm not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we're pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession. I'm not willing to see 2 million Americans who stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month be put in a situation where they might lose their home or their car or suffer some additional economic catastrophe.

So as sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do. The American people didn't send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories. They would much rather have the comfort of knowing that when they open their first paycheck on January of 2011, it won't be smaller than it was before, all because Washington decided they preferred to have a fight and failed to act.

Make no mistake: allowing taxes to go up on all Americans would have raised taxes by $3,000 for a typical American family. That could cost our economy well over a million jobs.

At the same time, I'm not about to add $700 billion to our deficit by allowing a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I won't allow any extension of these tax cuts for the wealthy, even a temporary one, without also extending unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs or additional tax cuts for working families and small businesses. Because if Republicans truly believe we shouldn't raise taxes on anyone while our economy is still recovering from the recession, then surely we shouldn't cut taxes for wealthy people while letting them rise on parents and students and small businesses.

As a result, we have arrived at a framework for a bipartisan agreement. For the next two years, every American family will keep their tax cuts. Not just the Bush tax cuts, but those that have been put in place over the last couple of years that are helping parents and students and other folks manage their bills.

In exchange for a temporary extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, we will be able to protect key tax cuts for working families. The earned income tax credit that helps families climb out of poverty, the child tax credit that makes sure families don't see their taxes jump up to $1,000 for every child, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit that ensures over 8 million students and their families don't suddenly see the cost of college shooting up. These are the tax cuts for some of the folks who have been hit hardest by this recession. And it would be simply unacceptable if their taxes went up while everybody else's stayed the same.

Under this agreement, unemployment insurance will also be extended for another 13 months, which will be welcome relief for 2 million Americans who are facing the prospect of having this lifeline yanked away from them right in the middle of the holiday season.

This agreement would also mean a 2 percent employee payroll tax cut for workers next year. The tax cut that economists across the political spectrum agree is one of the most powerful things we can do to create jobs and boost economic growth.

And we will prevent -- we will provide incentives for businesses to invest and create jobs by allowing them to completely write off their investments next year. This is something I identified back in September as a way to help American businesses create jobs. Thanks to this compromise, it's finally going to get done.

In exchange, the Republicans have asked for more generous treatment of the estate tax than I think is wise or warranted. But we have insisted that that will be temporary.

I have no doubt that everyone will find something in this compromise that they don't like. In fact, there are things in here that I don't like. Namely the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest estates. But these tax cuts will expire in two years. And I'm confident that, as we make tough choices about bringing our deficit down, as I engage in a conversation with the American people about the hard choices we're going to have to make to secure our future and our children's future, and our grandchildren's future, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend those tax cuts any longer.

As for now, I believe this bipartisan plan is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do for jobs. It's the right thing to do for the middle class. It is the right thing to do for business, and it's the right thing to do for our economy. It offers us an opportunity that we need to seize. It's not perfect. But this compromise is an essential step on the road to recovery.

It will stop middle-class taxes from going up. It will spur our private sector to create millions of new jobs and add momentum that our economy badly needs. Building on that momentum is what I'm focused on. It's what members of Congress should be focused on.

I'm looking forward to working with members of both parties in the coming days to see to it that we get this done before everyone leaves town for the holiday season. We cannot allow this moment to pass. And let me just end with this. There's been a lot of debate in Washington about how this would ultimately get resolved. I just want everybody to remember over the course of the coming days, both Democrats and Republicans, that these are not abstract fights for the families that are impacted.

Two million people will lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month if we don't get this resolved. Millions more of Americans will see their taxes go up at a time when they can least afford it. And my singular focus over the next year is going to be on how do we continue the momentum of the recovery? How do we make sure that we grow this economy and we create more jobs.

We cannot play politics at a Time when the American people are looking for us to solve problems. And so I look forward to engaging the House and the Senate, members of both parties, as well as the media in this debate, but I'm confident that this needs to get done, and I'm confident ultimately Congress is going to do the right thing.

Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Democrats behind this plan?

BLITZER: All right. So the president of the United States speaking, what, for about nine minutes to the American people, announcing what he calls a framework agreement that will allow the tax rates that were implemented during the Bush administration to continue for another two years, including for the wealthiest Americans, those making more than $250,000 a year.

The president says he hates that part of it, but under the circumstances, he had no choice. He didn't have the political power to push back. The Republicans were holding firm. They wanted to continue the tax rates for everyone. They would have voted against continuing the tax rates only for those making less than $250,000 a year. And in two votes in the House and the Senate in recent days, they did just that.

Let's assess what's going on. We have members of the best political team on television standing by. I want to go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian first.

I know you've had some briefings on this, Dan. Is it a done deal now? Do they -- are they 100 percent convinced they have the votes in the House and the Senate to get this through?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, no one is saying that it's a done deal yet. They are optimistic that they have the votes to get this through. But Wolf, I think what you heard from the president tonight is sort of making a case to justify why he and others were willing to compromise on deeply-held positions. The president believing that this is the right time and the best time to get this done, that this fight should not be prolonged. You heard the president talk about how he did not want Americans to become collateral damage in political warfare. Really believing that this is the best deal that they have. And so, while it may not be perfect -- you heard the president ending his remarks, saying that it may not be perfect -- he believes this is what is needed to help Americans who are hurting, especially during these difficult economic times.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar is on Capitol Hill.

Brianna, do you get the sense that a lot of the Republicans are going to be happier with this deal than a lot of the Democrats?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you certainly do get that sense. Even some, you know, talking to a Senate Republican source, they weren't -- they were emphasizing that the ink isn't dry here and things could still change.

But there are going to be a lot of unhappy Democrats as they come to the Hill tomorrow, Wolf. In fact, the White House has a long way to go with making some of them happy.

We heard from a Senate Democratic leadership aide that Joe Biden is going to be coming up here to the Hill tomorrow to talk with Senate Democrats, trying to defend this deal.

And you heard the president talk specifically about that estate tax. I'm told by one Democratic aide that this is going to be something very difficult for liberal Democrats in the House to swallow. It's going to be a very bitter pill. Because the way they see it with these tax cuts being extended for all Americans, including the wealthiest, when you add on that estate tax, even though it's been zeroed out under the Bush tax cuts, you're talking about $5 million in inheritance. The first $5 million in inheritance that taxes wouldn't have to be paid on. Very tough for liberal Democrats.

BLITZER: But Gloria Borger, from what I understand, this is a package deal, and there's not going to be any room for amendments. The members, Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, they're going to have to take it or leave it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. That's why you've got the vice president going up to the Hill tomorrow. It's why you've got -- I've been just BlackBerrying with some House Democrats who are upset. And I think what -- you know, you see what they tried to do here. They tried to give a little something for everybody. Protect the earned investment tax credit, the child tax credit, give 2 percent employee payroll tax cut, taking care of the wealthy, taking care of the middle class.

But, you know, the bottom line is what are they going to do next, Wolf? This is -- this is very expensive here. And while it's going to make people happy in the short-term to a certain degree, and liberal Democrats will not be happy at all, by the way, because of the extension of the tax cuts on the wealthy, you're just kicking the can down the road.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Rollins, Republican strategist, it looks like none of this is paid for. In other words, there's no spending cuts as far as I can see to pay for any of these things.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, clearly the president put a budget up shortly. The Republicans then have an opportunity. If they think they can make cuts somewhere else, to offset some of this, they'll do that.

At the end of the day, as Chairman Bernanke said last night on "60 Minutes," now is not the time to cut or to basically do deficit reduction. It's a longer strategy. And I think this -- this is what the compromise is all about. And I think, to a certain extent, this is what this election was about. You know, this is the beginning of a long process which both sides are going to have to give up.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, what does this compromise say about the president of the United States?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it was interesting. I listened carefully to his speech, and he talked about how symbolic victories were unhelpful to Americans who are out of work. By which I guess he means if he had continued fighting for his Democratic principles on this, that this -- I think he felt like this was the time to compromise.

I was also struck that the tone in his comments seemed to be more directed to his own party and sort of scolding, sort of suggesting that Democrats who disagree with him on this are somehow posturing or wanting to, I think he said, fight instead of solve problems.

I can tell you, the early reviews from his own party are tough. Somewhere between tough and scathing. I don't know that those comments tonight from the president are going to help sell this package with his party. So I don't know. I think he's got a very tough sell from his own party. I think he'll get his deal. The Republicans seem to love it. And there's going to be probably enough Republicans and Democrats who can pass this. But, you know, I think he's -- he's -- Democrats sense that he's caving.

BLITZER: Caving. That's a strong word.

Jessica Yellin, some of us who covered the Bill Clinton administration and the losses that he and the Democrats sustained in '94, and then Newt Gingrich became speaker in '95, we saw Bill Clinton moving back towards a more moderate, centrist position. Are we seeing that now to the irritation of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, President Obama moving towards the center?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly what the White House has termed the professional left is trying to protect -- protect from happening now. That's what they think the president is doing.

The progressive change campaign committee is one of those groups that's been so critical of the president over his negotiations on the tax cuts. They put out a statement before the deal was done saying this. And it sounds like the president was, in some part, responding to these sentiments. "President Obama has shown a complete refusal to fight Republicans throughout his presidency, even when the public is on his side. And millions of his former supporters are now growing disappointed and infuriated by this refusal to fight. Obama is demobilizing the troops and demoralizing the public right before he seeks reelection."

Now Wolf, that sounds like something of a threat from the liberal wing of the president's own party, saying essentially, look, if you don't stick to some of the principles you promised to stand by during your campaign, we might not back you in your reelection. Those are fighting words, but there is a deep, deep, deep resentment and frustration on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party right now that's more than just talk. There's a real sense of disillusionment with the president.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, there may be disappointment on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, but John McCain just tweeted this. He loves it. John McCain, I say -- in his tweet he says, "I applaud the framework agreement just announced by the president. Now we need to make it happen. We shouldn't raise taxes during a recession."

So you're hearing his rival for the presidency applauding what he's doing at a time when many liberal Democrats hate it.

BEGALA: Yes. You get the sense, I think, that the Republicans -- I watched your interview with Senator Barrasso. You and Gloria both, I think, sort of drew him out to show that there's -- it seems to be -- I think the Republicans, most Democrats believe, got the better part of the deal. Looks like the Republicans believe that, as well.

What you're hearing pushing back from the administration, though, is important. They want to shift it away from the focus on the tax cuts for the rich that the president says he still doesn't like and toward this payroll tax cut, which is something that I've been calling for for a long time, a lot of Democrats. It's mostly a Republican idea, I have to say, but a lot of Democrats have said that would create a lot of jobs.

And you're hearing a lot now already from the White House and the administration that payroll tax cut that's in here is going to put $2,000 in the pocket of a couple making $50,000 a year, and that will generate a lot of jobs.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, thanks very much. I want to thank all of our members of the best political team on television.

Historic day here in Washington right now. The president of the United States, you heard him announcing what he calls a framework agreement, a compromise worked out with the Republicans. It still has to be voted on in the House and the Senate. We'll see if it's a done deal or not. We'll have more coverage, obviously, here on CNN. Stand by for that.

Also, Wal-Mart, right now at the center of what could be the largest class-action lawsuit in U.S. history, with huge implications for workers and businesses across the country. Stand by.


BLITZER: New developments in a lawsuit against Wal-Mart that could make history. CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us. She has details.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Betty Dukes has worked at Wal-Mart for 16 years, starting as a cashier, and she was eventually reduced to a greeter. In 2001, she and five other co- workers sued Wal-Mart, accusing the world's largest retailer of paying women less than men and offering fewer opportunities.

BETTY DUKES, SUED WAL-MART: Even after we had filed a class action against Wal-Mart, they hired -- they hired a male worker, and he started off at $9 an hour, and I was still making just a little bit above 8. And the reason he started off, because he was able to negotiate a higher salary as a male.

SNOW: The plaintiffs are seeking back pay and punitive damages, saying women make up more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly workforce but in the past decade held fewer than one-third of its store management positions.

Wal-Mart has said it does not discriminate, and the company went to the Supreme Court asking for a ruling on whether as many as 1.6 million current and former employees can join in the class-action suit.

Theodore Boutrous represents the retailer.

THEODORE BOUTROUS, ATTORNEY FOR WAL-MART: What's at stake here is the rules governing class action in this country, which are very important for businesses to ensure fairness, to ensure that people's rights are protected and in class actions.

So this is just a very important issue. Not just for the parties in this case, but for the federal justice system, for businesses of all types, and it's just exceedingly important we have clarity on these rules. That's why we're very happy the court ran a review.

SNOW: Last spring, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco opened the door for a class-action suit. If it goes ahead, it has the potential (AUDIO GAP).


SNOW: Obviously, we have technical problems there.

The corporations are saying that if they're faced with these suits, that there's pressure to settle them, but groups representing plaintiffs, obviously, are saying that there shouldn't be any discrimination in the first place. And the fact that the Supreme Court has taken this case the way that it did, we spoke with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He says that the timing of this suggests that the justices want to reverse the lower court ruling, which would mean a victory for Wal-Mart. And the justices do plan to hear oral arguments next spring -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Would be a huge victory for Wal-Mart. Would be a huge victory for a lot of big businesses out there.

All right, Mary. We'll stay on top of this. Thank you very much.

A teenager in a dump truck leads police on a wild chase, and it's "Most Unusual."


BLITZER: "Most Unusual" high speed chase. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a dump truck run amok, crashing into police cars and doing 50 in reverse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a movie being filmed. I mean, really, where in Stoll (ph), Ohio, are you doing to see something like that, right?

MOOS: Right. That's something you see Sean Connery doing in the movies. Well, this ain't the movies.

It started when a dump truck was stolen from someone's home and led police on a 53-mile chase.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're rerouting. Left on Graham. Left on Graham. We're coming right at you.

MOOS (on camera): Behind the wheel of the dump truck was a 17- year-old kid. The "Akron Beacon-Journal" reports that his stepfather said that they'd been begging juvenile justice officials to help them with the teenager.

(voice-over) When sandwiched between police cars, the truck rear- ended one cruiser, then backed up and rammed another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to ram another cruiser.

MOOS: That's when the dump truck took off backwards. The cruiser pulled up alongside and then, seconds later, it got rear ended. Here's how that looked from the dash cam.


MOOS: But that didn't stop one of the cruisers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Believe it or not, he was still able to drive. He was chasing -- the police car was chasing the dump truck with the whole front end of it just about falling off. Sparks were flying.

MOOS: Two even younger passengers in the dump truck jumped out and were rounded up by police as the truck kept going. Shouldn't these kids be playing with dump trucks like the one in "Toy Story"?

NED BEATTY, ACTOR: Rise and shine.

MOOS: But from this dump truck, the driver dumped bricks out the window, as well as a tarp. Police used stop sticks, a spike device, thrown across the road, and they think the flat tire may have caused the truck to hit a guardrail. The teenager had only minor cuts and bruises.

(on camera) The driver's been charged with felonious assault on a police officer, assault with a dump truck.

(voice-over) Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.