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Fiscal Cliff Looms; Interview with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Interview with Congressman Tim Huelskamp; Grand Canyon: Older Than You Thought; PSY's Next Move

Aired November 30, 2012 - 06:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fiscal split. The two sides seem farther apart than ever after round one of talks.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Asphalt eruption. Look at this. The story behind this 30-foot geyser on a California street.

ROMANS: And reversal of fortune. A New Yorker hit by Hurricane Sandy hits Powerball for a million bucks.

SAMBOLIN: Everybody's got to love that story.

ROMANS: Oh, that's a great Friday morning story.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour here.

President Obama is on the road today. He is hoping public pressure will force the GOP's hand in fiscal cliff talks -- that cliff just 32 days away.

But when that plan was presented yesterday to leaders in Congress, it only underlined the divide between the two parties. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell literally LOL-ed when Tim Geithner presented it. Republicans calling it a one-sided plan -- big on taxes, short, and vague, on cuts.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's time for president, congressional Democrats to tell the American people what spending cuts they're really willing to make.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We're still waiting for a serious offer from the Republicans. Really, now is the time for the Republicans to move past this happy talk about revenues -- ill- defined, of course -- and put specifics on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) SAMBOLIN: So, let's hear from several lawmakers on the Hill. In a moment, we're going to speak to Kansas Republican Representative Tim Huelskamp.

But right now, I'm joined by the senior whip of the House Democratic Caucus, Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Very nice to see you. Thank you for being with us this morning, Congresswoman.

So, Boehner --

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Good to be with you. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you. Good morning.

So Boehner has said he would accept a tax increase of $800 billion. The White House plan is asking for $1.6 trillion, which is double that. Why did President Obama put forth such an aggressive plan, as many are calling it? Is this really a serious offer?

JACKSON LEE: First of all, I'd like our Republican friends to stop a war on the working people of America. That is what the ultimate non- action will impact. Those are the people who will be impacted.

I think the president has made it very clear that he is responding to the affirmation of his position on November 6th, 2012. But he is not in any way hesitant to negotiate. $2.4 trillion were the Bush tax cuts that resulted in this enormous deficit, because in the 1990s, we had a $5.6 trillion surplus.

What the president is trying to do is to give relief to working people, and as well provide revenue to continue to support the needs of this nation -- such as Mayor Bloomberg, who's just come to Washington and asked for an enormous amount of money, rightly so, to help those who've been victims of hurricane Sandy.

So the president is not in any way suggesting that he's not willing to negotiate. He asked the questions, when are the Republicans going to be considerate of those who get up every day and work? Or those who need Medicare or Social Security and Medicaid?

That is what the bottom line is for the president and for Democrats, to protect benefits in a reasonable manner, and to ensure that we have the revenue to bring down the deficit and to continue to operate in the needs of the American people.

SAMBOLIN: Congresswoman, I'd like to talk about those entitlement programs because I know that this is very near and dear to your heart. The lion's share of the $400 billion in cuts are expected to come from Medicare and possibly Social Security.

You are a member of the Progressive Caucus. The head of the caucus, Keith Ellison, says all 77 members will stand against cuts to entitlements if those cuts are included in a compromised bill. Will you vote against it?

JACKSON LEE: I never say never. But the Progressive Caucus is right and I support the progressive caucus. And I don't at this time conclude that we will get to that point, because Social Security is solvent in 2037. Medicare is solvent until 2024.

Here's what I'd like to do, Christine. I would like to resolve these tax issues, and move deliberatively into 2013 and look constructively at how you address these issues. Let's look at the case.

We have taken $756 billion from Medicare, eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. I'm willing to look at that again for waste, fraud and abuse. But we will not stand for cutting of benefits. That is just not acceptable.

These are benefits to working people.

SAMBOLIN: But you are open -- you are open to compromising on that issue?

JACKSON LEE: I'm open to looking at more cuts and waste, fraud and abuse and other aspects that do not directly impact the individual recipient of a Medicare benefit because those folks and individuals that are working and Medicaid in its largest amount goes to nursing home seniors who have worked all of their lives, and Social Security is not the crisis or the issue in this discussion.

SAMBOLIN: Congresswoman --

JACKSON LEE: If my Republican friends would think about the working people of America, stop the war on working people of America, and not adhere to the fact that in a recession, you must constantly focus on the deficit. Most economists say focus on growth.

But I am looking forward to reasonable men and women coming together as patriots, and ensuring that we will address this question for the American people. We do not need to look at entitlements before 2013, and I would hesitate to rush into any assessment of entitlements before we look carefully at how we bring back the Bush tax cuts.

When I say bring back, bring them down and allow everyone makes $250,000 a year to be able to get the tax cut, and that means wealthy people. There's nothing wrong with that.

SAMBOLIN: Congresswoman, I appreciate your passion and your time this morning. We've got to get to the other side.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.

SAMBOLIN: So we'd like to bring in Kansas Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp who sits on the House Budget Committee.

So I would like to start with your thoughts on the White House's offer, if I dare here.

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: I didn't laugh out loud, but pretty close. I mean, we've had four straight years of trillion dollar deficits, and this president can't find anywhere to actually reduce spending. We've got a spending problem, not a revenue problem in Washington.

But I agree with the president from two years ago when he said you can't raise taxes in the middle of a recession. I think the economy is lower than it was last year. Slower than it was the year before, and we have this idea and notion that somehow raising taxes is going to create jobs.

We have about 23 million Americans looking for work. Raising taxes doesn't create jobs. If we want more revenue in Washington we need to grow the economy. We need to provide a moratorium for Obamacare. We need to talk about ways we can grow the economy and get Washington out of the way so people can go back to work.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Congressman, you know, Americans really want to compromise here and they want finally a plan and to resolve this fiscal cliff. Will Republicans now counter with their own version of a plan, and -- and if you could share some details of what that potentially would look like?

HUELSKAMP: I think one of the problems with Washington in general is these things are taking place behind closed doors. That didn't work out a year and a half ago when they put together a bad deal. Both sides, the president, majority leader, the speaker, that created this crisis.

But the point was that they wanted to borrow another $2.3 trillion. They promised they cut spending and here we are at the end of the year, we haven't cut any spending yet since August and now we want to borrow more money and raise taxes.

But again, two years ago, President Obama signed and extended what I call the Bush/Obama tax cuts. I think we need to do that, for some certainty to the economy and talk about looking at some real spending cuts, as well.

SAMBOLIN: Some are criticizing this and calling it a very aggressive plan that the president has pushed forth. In public comments like the one we heard from Boehner, Reid, both sides taking really hard stances. But some insiders saying that a deal is within reach and much of it is for show now.

New Jersey Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews told "Politico" this. "There's the public choreography, then there is the real choreography." May be something you alluded to. "To reach a deal, it has to look like there was a lot of fighting before the deal was reached."

What's your response to that? Do you think that there is a lot of grandstanding going on here? And we're actually going to make the deadline that the president suggested, which is before Christmas? HUELSKAMP: There's always a lot of grandstanding in Washington on both sides. This is my first term in Congress. I think most Americans are disappointed with the games.

But the president prepared a budget and sent it to Congress in the last two years and not a single member of the House or the Senate ever voted for his budget because it wasn't serious. Here we are, 30-some days before the end of the year, the biggest tax increase in American history, and I think the president seriously wants to raise taxes on everybody. Or else he'd present a serious plan that actually involves reductions in spending, which has never happened in Washington for a long, long time.

COSTELLO: The GOP is taking a lot of criticism here. There's a CNN/ORC poll that shows public opinion that is decidedly against Republicans in Congress -- 45 percent said they would be more responsible for negotiations failing, while only 34 percent said that they would blame President Obama.

Do you feel like there's more pressure on Republicans to give up some ground here in order to reach some sort of a consensus?

HUELSKAMP: I know a lot of folks in Washington worry about polls. But I'm worried about what happens to our state of our nation. We've got $16.3 trillion debt.

And the president has provided no leadership, or actually how do you actually reduce spending? What's the balanced approach if you can't identify a single cut? Meanwhile the president wants to spend $4 million for vacation at the end of the year in the midst of what is a huge crisis in our nation's history.

SAMBOLIN: So, Congressman, my last question to you is do you think that we will actually go of the fiscal cliff? Do you think it will be a compromise that will be reached before Christmas?

HUELSKAMP: That is a great question. I don't know the answer to that. But it's not about Washington. It's not about what the politicians are thinking. It's about how do we create more jobs in America and get our economy growing again?

And I'm afraid $400 billion in tax increases go in effect on January 1st, I guarantee you we're going to have hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their jobs and that's unacceptable.

SAMBOLIN: Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, member of the House Budget Committee -- thanks for spending some time with us this morning. Appreciate it.

HUELSKAMP: Thank you.

ROMANS: I mean, he's right. It is about the American people. But it is about Washington, because this is -- Washington holds the American people in their hands right now.

SAMBOLIN: Hostage. ROMANS: All right. They say age is just a number. But not for scientists who are now watching the dispute over the Grand Canyon. Coming up, just how old is this national treasure?


ROMANS: Soledad O'Brien is off today. John Berman joins us now with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Zoraida just threw this pen at me.


BERMAN: But I'm still going to tell you what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

A big laugh, in-your-face rejection from Republicans over the Obama administration's opening negotiation on the fiscal cliff. We're going to take to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer about what this means for talks from here.

And, you know, he's defending Susan Rice as his fellow Republicans hammer away at her. Former presidential candidate, Ambassador Jon Huntsman is going to join us to explain all this. And the best part about this, Abby Huntsman, his daughter, is going to be on the panel. Kind of like their first joint appearance.

We're saying ever. We have to fact-check that. But we're making history this morning.

Plus, Russell Simmons helping bring art to kids in urban areas. We're going to talk about why he's so passion about this cause.

And this is a picture everyone on the planet is talking about. The cop who warmed the hearts of everyone who's seen this photo. Officer Larry Deprimo, he's going to join us.

We have that and much more coming up on "STARTING POINT." It's like 15 minutes away. It's Friday. What could be better?

And stop throwing stuff at me.

SAMBOLIN: By the way, that's a sharpie, not a pen. I just thought I'd correct you. Fact-checking.

BERMAN: Fact-check. Thank you.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Mr. Berman, thank you very much.

ROMANS: Thanks, John.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Forty-four minutes past the hour.

People on the West Coast bracing for the threat of flooding and mudslides. Meteorologist Rob Marciano is keeping an eye on it and sharing the bad news.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, second pulse of several that's coming through the West Coast right now. Here's a look at the satellite imagery. This really highlights the moisture now pointing at San Francisco. But it's going to waver, really, from Seattle to San Diego from time to time. Winds with this pretty high as well -- 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts yesterday. Western parts of Lake Tahoe and Carson City near that as well.

Over six, almost seven inches of rainfall in California. Over the next five days we could see a foot more rain. There's your rainfall in San Francisco. A little bit of white. I mean this is really a low elevation event. That's interesting. All right, Psychedelic Friday. Not sure how that happened. But stay off the --

ROMANS: We got you on candid camera.

MARCIANO: How about that?

SAMBOLIN: You're really trying to figure out how that happened, right?

MARCIANO: Yes, I am. By the way, last day of hurricane season. This has been the third busiest hurricane season, although we've tied several years of this on record. So 19 storms, and don't have to tell you about the two big ones that hit the U.S.

SAMBOLIN: So we're happy to put that all behind us. Thank you, Rob.

Forty-five minutes past the hour. Former president George H.W. Bush, who is 88 years old, is in stable condition this morning. He's in a Houston hospital. He was admitted a week ago and is being treated for bronchitis, we're told. His office says the former president is expected to be released in the next few days. Mr. Bush is the oldest living former president.

ROMANS: There's a new dispute in scientific circles regarding the age of the Grand Canyon. Visitors to the Grand Canyon are told that scientists believe the canyon is about 6 million years old but geologists at the University of Colorado now published a paper in the journal, "Science", which claims the Grand Canyon dates back to the time when dinosaurs walked the earth, 70 million years ago.

SAMBOLIN: It's a geyser! police in San Diego say the driver of a snap-on tools truck lost control, knocked off a fire hydrant, then crashed right through the wall of a bar. It left an 11-foot wide hole in the wall and water rocketing into the air. Everybody was OK.

ROMANS: After Sandy, a stroke of luck for one man who was impacted by the superstorm. Joel Ditkowsky was heading to work when he stopped to check his Powerball ticket. The Kennedy airport customs broker was one of 58 people who came up one number short of the big jackpot.


JOEL DITKOWSKY, LOTTERY WINNER: Put it in the machine, he said you're a winner. Not only that, you won a million dollars.


ROMANS: You won a million dollars. Several other lotto winners, including one New Yorker who hit the $33 million MegaMillions, they pledged to give to the recovery effort to help their hometown.

SAMBOLIN: That's wonderful. From "Gangnam Style" to gang busters. Coming up, our Alina Cho goes one-on-one with YouTube sensation, PSY.




SAMBOLIN: Can you, do you? Get on your horse. This week, Korean pop music star PSY shattered the world record for most YouTube views in history with his music video "Gangnam Style". It is approaching 853 million views right now/

ROMANS: 853 million views. Our Alina Cho sat down with him for a revealing interview and she joins us now. Alina, what is it about this video that just has taken over the world?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Have you tried the dance?


CHO: It's the horse dance. And what's fascinating about that is that the horse dance that was made famous by "Gangnam Style" was actually quite popular in Korea back in the 1980s. Then PSY and his choreographer thought it might be worth revisiting. They put that dance to music and the rest, as they say, is YouTube history.


CHO: I guess we want to start at the beginning. Gangnam.


CHO: The Beverly Hills of Seoul.

PSY: Yes. So I described the district as -- that's my point of view. And I described the district as, like, going calm at the daytime and going insane at the nighttime. So I come here, all the sexy ladies to the district to be calm in the daytime and going insane at nighttime. Especially for me. And that's what the lyrics is about.

CHO: You obviously, though, have a knack for performing, and have a knack for dance, but do you think that part of the reason why this is because so successful, and went so viral, is because this dance is something that almost anyone can do with a little bit of practice?

PSY: It's not that easy, though.

CHO: Some of the moves are really not easy. I've tried them.

PSY: But when I do the dance, it looks easy.

CHO: It does look easy.

PSY: And I like that part because when people see it and if it looks like, oh, I cannot do that, thenthey're not going to do it, right?

CHO: Right?

PSY: But when people see it, I can do it. And they are trying. And if people are trying, that means viral.

CHO: They've tried nearly a billion times.

PSY: That's what I'm saying. So, you know, I just saw like 20,000 people flash mob in Italy. I saw the video footage on YouTube, and they were doing every move, and they were saying every Korean word.

CHO: How crazy is that?

PSY: So, you know, when I do performing, it's kind of -- I feel kind of sorry to the audience, because they don't have any idea what I'm talking about, right?

CHO: I do.

PSY: But when I see their face, they are so happy, but they don't -- they don't have any idea what I'm talking about. But they are so happy. And they're waiting all the way until "sexy ladies".


CHO: What American doesn't understand sexy ladies? So the big question is what will PSY do next? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, it turns out he has already finished his next track, the lyrics are a mix of Korean and English, probably a little more English than "Gangnam Style", if I had to guess. Release date to be announced.

When I asked him, don't you feel the pressure to do better than "Gangnam Style"? I mean how do you beat a billion views on YouTube? He said, I actually don't. You know what, "Gangnam Style" was a phenomenon. It will never happen again. I'm just happy I'm now on the map. And, boy, is he ever on the map.

ROMANS: Yes, he's put his country on the map, he's put a whole style of pop music.

CHO: I can tell you, being a Korean-American, he is the pride and joy of Korea.

ROMANS: I bet, I bet. Alina Cho and PSY.

CHO: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: I was expecting to see you dance, though. CHO: Next time.

ROMANS: Today's Best Advice coming up.


SAMBOLIN: We're going to wrap it up as always with Best Advice.

ROMANS: And we asked multi-Grammy Award winner Dionne Warwick, Dionne Warwick, for her best advice. Listen.


DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: I was told to always be who I am, myself, and my grandfather gave me the best, which happens to be my mantra and I live by it. And that is simply: if you can think it, you can do it.


SAMBOLIN: Words to live by.

ROMANS: I know. I couldn't speak. When we were with Dionne Warwick, I couldn't speak. But if you can think it, you can do it.

That's EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with John Berman and Brooke Baldwin starts right now.