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Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Possibly Stalled; Interview with Representatives Mary Bono Mack and Connie Mack; Collision Kills U.S. Coast Guardsman; CNN Hero Fulfilling Children's Dreams

Aired December 3, 2012 - 08:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. In just a couple minutes we'll be talking to Florida Republican Congressman Connie Mack and California Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack about the latest wheeling and dealing as we look to be going over the fiscal cliff.

First I want to start with Alina, who has a look at the day's top stories. Hey, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Soledad. Good morning. We're following those Pacific storms. This weekend the third Pacific storm to hit the region in just five days unleashed floodwaters and knocked out power to thousands in Sacramento, San Francisco and surrounding areas. There's rain in the forecast, and after a brief respite today again tomorrow.

Officials say missing bolts meant to secure concrete slabs may be the cause of a deadly collapse in a Japanese highway tunnel. Nine people were killed when a 200-foot section of eight inch thick concrete caved in on the cars yesterday morning. Emergency inspections have been ordered on nearly 50 tunnels and similar structures across Japan.

And the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, is taking the food stamp challenge. We're talking about Cory Booker. He will only be eating what he can afford to buy this week, and he'll have just $33 to work with. That's the average weekly food stamp benefit in his state per day. Booker is already tweeting that he will be giving up coffee because he won't be able to afford it. I love this story. I know you do, too, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I do, too, because mostly I thought -- I've never really thought about how much money people who are on food stamps actually get. Then how do they navigate their way through buying. When he started tweeting about it, and I follow him on twitter, I started thinking, I never really thought about how do you feed a family on a certain amount of money. It will be an interesting experiment. It will really be insightful for people who fortunately don't have to deal with that issue and we'll learn a lot.

Let's talk about another money issue, which is the fiscal cliff. In something like, what, 29 days now we're going to hit the fiscal cliff, spending cuts, tax hikes, unless lawmakers can reach a deal. House speaker John Boehner pretty blunt on where he felt the cliff negotiations were standing. Listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: I would say we're nowhere, period. We're nowhere. We've put a serious offer on the table by putting revenues up there to try to get this question resolved. But the White House has responded with virtually nothing.


O'BRIEN: The nothing he's talking about is the president's plan which was delivered to GOP leaders last week by the Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. It calls for $1.6 trillion in new revenue. Republicans say that figure is unacceptable. Until they present their own plan the White House is standing by that proposal right now. Despite the parties and lines in the sand we're joined by two Republican lawmakers. I've overwhelmed by Republican lawmakers this morning.

CHO: You're surrounded, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Florida Representative Connie Mack is with us this morning and Mary Bono Mack. Thank you both for being with us.


O'BRIEN: I'm used to it on this show. It's interesting to hear Boehner saying, listen, nowhere, period, nowhere, which sounded very final and very gloomy. Earlier when I was talking to Senator Blumenthal, he was like, I'm optimistic. I'm kind of hopeful. What do you think?

REP. MARY BONO MACK, (R) CALIFORNIA: I think first of all the timing of this probably couldn't be worse for negotiation purposes from our perspective to some degree, right before the holidays, which is a tough time for politicians anyway. In some terms we feel like it's light years between now and the new year. It's really not. It's right around the corner. Lawmakers will continue to feel a lot more pressure between now and then to get something done.

But at the same time we're coming off the heels of this election. So to some degree we're kind of trying to find our negotiating legs, if you will. But nonetheless, it's critically important. I think it's critically important we say to the American people that we get the fiscal house in order.

O'BRIEN: How do you do that in, realistically, 29 days? What do you say?

REP. CONNIE MACK, (R) FLORIDA: Let me go back to this. No one should be surprised we are in the position we are in right now.

O'BRIEN: Hey, I'm not.

CONNIE MACK: It is the same people negotiating the same deal all over again. And so when you get into that -- what is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? When we did the super committee last time, that was a complete failure. So no one should be surprised at where we are. And I would say this, that neither side has put up a credible plan.

O'BRIEN: I think we have a graphic. Why don't we throw that up on the air. It's sort of a list of what they're offering. But Republicans say it is ridiculous. It is sort of redundant from 2011. There's nothing new in it.

I know Democrats have sort of said -- I'm thinking we have a chunk from Geithner. Let's play that. His whole point was kind of like, listen. It's like a chess game. We've now made our move and it's up to the Republicans to come up with something else. Let me play what he said.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: We've laid out a very comprehensive, detailed framework of how we'd do it in what stages with $600 billion of spending cuts over 10 years in entitlement programs. I think right now the best thing for them to do is come to us and say, well, here's what we think makes sense. We've told them what we think makes sense. What we can't do is try to figure out what's going to be good for them. They have to come tell us.


O'BRIEN: "Them" being Republicans. What's your move?

CONNIE MACK: I think that's exactly right. We do need to. But, look, there's no new ideas. They're all the same ideas we've been talking about for 18 months, for two years. It's the same ideas. So we're going to put up things about revenue but not on tax increases because we know tax increases will kill people's opportunity to find work. So we'll find revenue but not through tax increases. We'll make spending cuts to programs that the government and the people of this country don't need, don't want, don't deserve.

O'BRIEN: The Republicans on this side, the Democrats on this side, now we're at the same game. What's the solution?

CONNIE MACK: I think we continue to have this argument until right up until that date. Remember, this date was set in motion by the same two people who are negotiating this deal, President Obama and Speaker Boehner.

MARY BONO MACK: I had the opportunity to ask Secretary Geithner in may in a hearing in the financial services committee in the house if he could name a state. We have 50 states, if he could name one state that had higher economic growth than a state that had lower taxes and less regulation. Name a high tax, high regulation states that's actually doing better. He could not name a state.

And yet what he's proposing is higher taxes and more regulation. That's what this administration has done over the past four years. We have two massive laws that are breaks on the economy, the 2010 health law, the Affordable Care Act, well-intentioned but --

O'BRIEN: Will Republicans raise taxes? There's two chess moves I can see as a lowly voter.


O'BRIEN: My question is, will you raise taxes?

CONNIE MACK: I won't. But this is -- this is where leadership counts. And so Speaker Boehner needs to work with the conference to find Republicans that are willing to go along with that.

O'BRIEN: Are you going to raise taxes?

MARY BONO MACK: Look, it depends on what you mean by raising taxes.

O'BRIEN: On the top two percent of the wealthy people, you say you pay instead of 35 percent, we're going to put you at 37 percent.

MARY BONO MACK: This is a nuanced position right now. You know, we're talking about on our side closing loopholes. I don't know why that can't get traction on the other side.

But the question is, why is this happening? How should the American people feel? They should be angry about it. I think the fact it's happening right before the holidays is unfortunate. We can all sit here and say how many of these tough votes we've had to take right before the holiday. Both sides know the pressure that's put on lawmakers is very significant. But whether raising taxes again, it depends on what exactly you mean by this. And this is --

O'BRIEN: The top two percent of Americans who make --

MARY BONO MACK: That's one part of it. But the truth of the matter is there's such a breakdown within the Congress of trust and respect between both sides --

O'BRIEN: Ding, ding, ding.

MARY BONO MACK: -- that we cannot trust one another to truly negotiate in fairness. It's very sad.

O'BRIEN: We got to go to commercial break or I'll get killed. That's the most important thing you just said. I think you're right. I think the American people know it. You're not working together.

We've got to take a break. Still ahead, we're going to introduce you to a prominent African-American shoe designer who had a dream job designing for Nike and then quit. We'll tell you why. That's straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's tell you the story of a man who left his dream job to help other people pursue their dreams. It's this week's "Black in America." And George Howell talks with a successful athletic footwear designer who left a lucrative career at Nike to try to help change the complexion of the footwear industry. Listen.


DWAYNE EDWARDS, FOOTWEAR DESIGNER: This is a snapshot of some of the products I've designed over the course of my career. This is the Air Jordan 21.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Working at Nike Dwayne Edwards designed the signature sneaker lines of superstar athletes -- Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter and his childhood idol, Michael Jordan. But after 11 years at Nike, Edwards walked away.

EDWARDS: The footwear industry is close to a $50 billion industry in the U.S. alone. And there's probably a good 3,000 to 4,000 footwear designers in this industry. But people of color are underrepresented.

HOWELL (on camera): So what you're telling me, it comes down to exposure people knowing about the industry. And also knowing where to go, how to maneuver your way into positions like you had?

EDWARDS: Oh, most definitely.

If you're asked to do something, you have to do it.

HOWELL (voice-over): That's when this father of two decided to pool his own resources to open a footwear design school.

EDWARDS: I know we're at the malls purchasing the product. We have to be designing the product as well.

HOWELL: Pensole Footwear Design Academy opened in Portland in 2010. And for grads like Precious Hannah it helped her secure a job at Nike.

PRECIOUS HANNAH, GRADUATE OF FOOTWEAR DESIGN: When Pensole came it thought me that you don't need to have a computer digital shoes here's a pencil. Here's some paper. Take it. Do what you do.

HOWELL: From women to minorities, Dwayne Edwards is inspiring a new diverse wave of shoe designers.

EDWARDS: Designing a product that goes into a store, that's going to come and go.

HOWELL: Right.

EDWARDS: But impacting a life is generational.

HOWELL: All because he chose to leave a lucrative career behind him to teach others how to follow in his footsteps.

George Howell, CNN, Portland, Oregon.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: Oh, I love that story. And I love that man. Our "Black in America" documentary, our Black America 5, this time around this year it's called "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA"?" We investigate colorism and discrimination premieres on Sunday, December 9th at 8:00 p.m. and then repeats at 11:00 only on CNN. So I hope you watch that.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, children living behind bars even though they've done nothing wrong. We're going to talk to a true hero who was honored giving some of these kids a chance for a better future. That story is ahead. Stay with us.



PUSHPA BASNET, 2012 CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: This is for my children and this is for back to my country, Nepal. And thank you so much for everyone who voted for me and believed in my dream.


O'BRIEN: That's Pushpa Basnet, our CNN Hero of the year. She's in her 20s. And she is a woman behind the center in Nepal that keeps children from having to live in jail with their parents. She's in L.A. this morning. Nice to have you, congratulations. I know you win a lot of money because of how successful you were. What did it mean to you, the moment they called your name? You looked completely stunned. How did it feel?

BASNET: For me, it was a -- it was really a big thing. Because you cannot believe what's happening around. And for me now I see that my dream is coming to a reality. So definitely it was a big thing for me.

O'BRIEN: You discovered when you were fairly young, in your early 20s, that people in Nepal who are being incarcerated had sort of two choices, right? Either they could bring their children with them or the kids could become street children. I know this became your passion. And you started with -- with almost nothing. What will you do with the money now? You've got $300,000 that you'll be able to -- to spend. What do you do with it?

BASNET: Now with this money, what we will be getting, we would like to make our butterfly home which is my big dream because now we are staying at a rented place. We don't have big place to have much facility. Definitely we would like to make our dream house, Butterfly home, definitely.

O'BRIEN: Wonderful. And -- and finally, Actress Susan Sarandon who not only gave you your award but is also doing a documentary on your work is -- is following you and shooting this remarkable story. What do you -- what do you want the world to know about the work that you're doing with the children in Nepal? I think many people had no clue that this was happening.

BASNET: I think yes Susan has -- like, she has finished the movie with us. And I want all people to know that how fortunate we all are. And I think we should give back to our society. Lie you know not just in terms of money, like in terms of your time, your skill, like, teach them anything you want to have, you know.

So definitely it's -- it has brought a big change in my life, definitely.

O'BRIEN: Well congratulations. You are truly deserving of this honor. It was so much fun to watch the awards last night. It was really an amazing experiment. Pushpa Basnet a big winner has $300,000 now to put towards the young children in Nepal whose parents are incarcerated and also sometimes have to live in jail with their parents congratulations and thank you for being with us.

BASNET: Thank you it's an honor to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thanks we appreciate that.

Short break we're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard is dead after a suspicious boat rammed his inflatable boat during a pursuit off the coast of southern California. The Department of Homeland Security says Boatswain Mate Chief Terrell Horne was killed during a counterdrug operation. He and another Coast Guard member were thrown off at impact. The Coast Guard says the suspicious vessel was intercepted and two people have now been detained.

Ford is issuing recalls for two of its newest and biggest selling models. The 2013 Escape Crossover and 2013 Fusion Sedan. The problem is the eco-boost engines can overheat and catch on fire. Ford says Escape and Fusion owners will get a loaner car from their dealership until the problem is fixed. The recall will affect almost 90,000 vehicles.

And the Pope is on twitter. Finally. The Pope is on twitter. Well actually he's going to start on December 12th. Or I guess he already tweeted once. He's going to begin tweeting using the handle @pontifex. He already had 5,700 followers, for a guy who doesn't tweet at all. Vatican officials tells CNN the Pope will be composing the tweets himself. Vatican launched a Twitter news feed 17 months ago. Kicked it off with the first and I think only tweet so far from Pope Benedict. That is changing on December 12th.

All right, time for "End Point" this morning. Why don't you, Barbara, start us off. What do you think? What's the take away from the day?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Syria is not looking good right now. North Korea says it's going to launch a long range ballistic missile.

It's a beautiful holiday season here in New York but 800 million people around the world don't have clean drinking water and a lot of military people will tell you that's the one issue where peace on earth would be helped. More clean drinking water. Sanitation for those people around the world.

O'BRIEN: A lot of issues sort of percolating around the globe as we head to the end of the year. We've been really focused today on the fiscal cliff. Syria another big story that we're following as well.

Kamau, I know you got a tour coming up in L.A. Not in New York. What's that about?

W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, "TOTALLY BIASED" ON FX: I'm starting small in L.A. It's called The Kamaumau Uprising. It's to bring people together during a typical holiday season. If you bring a friend of a different race you get in two for one.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I love that. That's very nice. Nan, what you got for us?

REP. NAN HAYWORTH, (R) NEW YORK: I listen to Kamau and Barbara talk about the opportunities we have for harmony and for bettering our world. We have a lot of challenges around the world. And people all over the world look to the United States, think about the China house with the mothers, for us to be the leaders, for us to have the strongest economy and the best in the world.

O'BRIEN: So what are they thinking as we sit here and fight over the fiscal cliff still years in.

HAYWORTH: We will resolve this. We always have. I hope that Americans will think about what has made us strong. And it is individual initiative. Us helping each other in our communities. Having a government that respects us. And that's the right size. And letting enterprise thrive.

O'BRIEN: Maybe just getting together and talking. Kumbaya to all.

HAYWORTH: Yes, exactly.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you guys. Nice to have you this morning.

Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, former British prime minister Tony Blair is going to be joining us. California Congressman Xavier Beccerra will be with us, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson join ing us once again. We talk to him a lot. And Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings is back.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning. Carol, good morning.