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Obama: "Deal Within Sight"; Seven Coaches Fired On NFL's "Black Monday"; Clinton Hospitalized For Blood Clot; Record Year For Movie Biz; Health Setback For Chavez; Benghazi Report Faults State Department; Nine Dead In Charter Bus Crash; Funeral For Firefighter Killed In Ambush

Aired December 31, 2012 - 15:30   ET



JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: The world is looking to Washington waiting to see if Congress reaches a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Senator Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I can report that we have reached an agreement on all of the tax -- the tax issues. We are very, very close. As the president just said, the most important piece, the piece that has to be done now, is preventing the tax hikes.


JOHNS: In just the last hour, the president said a deal is, quote, "within sight" and that he himself is willing to make the hard choices to avoid $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes.

Wolf Blitzer is joining me now. Wolf, you've been with these kinds of negotiations before. When you look at this thing, do you think the can is just getting kicked down the road? In some ways it seems we're only getting a down payment here if that on the bigger issue of deficit reduction.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": And you're absolutely right, Joe. The president himself acknowledged that he wanted a big deal, a big picture deal if you will, couldn't achieve that with the leadership in Congress. So they're going to do it in stages. They're going to do it in various parts.

They are kicking some very sensitive issues down the road over the next few months. The Republicans are happy about that because they think they have some excellent leverage coming up in February and March when they have to pass legislation, raising the nation's debt ceiling and they think that will be enormous pressure that they will have on the president.

Once again, just as they did this summer of 2011, to get what they want as far as taxes, spending cuts are concerned. So they -- the kicking the can down the road, to a certain degree, if you don't deal with raising the debt limit right now, that's going to be good for the Republicans, going to have a little more leverage down the road.

But they're not getting that full picture deal that so many people were looking forward to. They only had a year and a half to do it, Joe. They waited until after the election these last few weeks, obviously, couldn't do it, trying to run out the clock and see what happens between now and midnight.

JOHNS: And you make a very good point, all of this really started even before August of 2011. That was when we first started talking about the debt ceiling as a real problem for this government. Now it seems like we're in the position where we could fight over these issues for, you know, a year or two years. Do you think that's good for the economy?

BLITZER: The economy wants some stability. They want to know what tax rates are going to be -- are going to be. They want to know where the spending cuts are going to come from, which defense industries, for example, are going to lose federal money in terms of defense spending.

They want to know what is going to happen to Medicare and Social Security. They want that predictability that gives them the confidence to go ahead and expand, to create jobs, and do what big business tries to do all the time.

Certainly that involves small businesses as well. They don't like the uncertainty and that's what we have right now, by kicking the can down the road, even if there is a short-term deal that will allow 98 or 98 percent of American families to not see an income tax increase, which is looking like it is going to be the case, it is still going to be -- it is still going to be kicking the can down the road over the next few months to get other parts of this arrangement done.

We'll see what happens, but it is ugly, as you know, watching this legislative process go, Joe. You've covered congress for a long time. You don't want to necessarily see how it is done. It is being done right now. I'm hoping there will be a Senate vote in the next few hours.

And we'll see if the senate passes, which I assume they will, and then it will go to the House of Representatives, probably tomorrow, and we'll see what the House of Representatives does.

JOHNS: All right, Wolf, I'll be watching you and the "SITUATION ROOM" at the top of the hour.

Ali Velshi, you have an interesting interview coming up. What's on tap?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, we have a whole bunch of Republicans who have signed that anti-tax pledge to Grover Norquist. I'm going to talk to one who is repudiated that pledge. He thinks we have got work to do and pledges are not the business of government. When we come back on "YOUR MONEY," I'll talk to Ohio Representative Congressman Steve Latourette.


VELSHI: Washington finally seems ready to ring in the New Year with a deal that averts the fiscal cliff. It only has taken 517 days to reach this point. What a waste of time.

From the CNN Money newsroom in New York, I'm Ali Velshi. This is YOUR MONEY. With only hours to go, President Obama says a deal between Democrats and Republicans is, quote, "within reach as America ticks closer to the fiscal cliff at midnight."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They are close, but they're not there yet. And one thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there is even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do, they will use that last second.


VELSHI: Well, it's down to the wire, but just in case, if you thought the fiscal cliff snuck up on Congress, the debt ceiling bill that triggered this to begin with was signed into law on August the 2nd, 2011. We have known from that day forward this day would be upon us if nothing was done.

And everyone in Congress has known all along what it would take to avert the blanket tax hikes and spending cuts that are mandated to start in the New Year. How much time is that, by the way, 517 days, or you can call it one year, four months and 29 days, or 73 weeks or 12,408 hours.

You get the point. Your political leader is engrossed in a colossal waste of time that now threatens the U.S. economy. The Bush era tax cuts, that's part of, they were enacted for ten years starting in 2001 and then extended in 2010 for another two years, so we have had exactly 12 years notice on that front.

This should not be happening. Even with all that time, the best hope we are left with is a puny tiny partial deal that averts tax hikes for the majority of taxpayers. "The Sequester," which is a stupid name for a stupid thing, which results in mandatory cuts that nobody wants, looks like the decision will be kicked down the road to be dealt with at another time.

At the last second, I'm sure. No one knows more about congressional dysfunction than Congressman Steve Latourette. He is a Republican from Ohio. He chose not to seek another term in the House, specifically because of the polarization in Washington.

Like most Republicans, he signed a pledge when he first took office to never vote to increase taxes under any circumstances. That was a pledge to Grover Norquist or by Grover Norquist's organization. He's now turned his back on the pledge, peddled by Grover Norquist and his powerful lobby group, Americans for Tax Reform. Latourette says all options need to be on the table to avert a fiscal cliff. He joins us now. Congressman Latourette, it looks like Republicans are ready to raise rates on individuals making $400,000 a year or more and households making $450,000 a year. Is that the kind of compromise you had expected to take place?

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: No, this is disgusting, quite frankly and dysfunctional. Latourette, by the way, in French, means dysfunctional. I'm used to it. I'll tell you that we find ourselves here after the 73 months that you talked about, and this is as good as it is going to get, it is really ridiculous and everybody here should be hanging their head in shame.

VELSHI: We feel the same way. We got this fiscal cliff mess as a result of being up against the government's borrowing limit, the debt ceiling in August of 2011. We are expected to hit that debt limit again today.

The Treasury Department says it can keep on paying the bills for a short period of time it can find $200 billion through extraordinary measure. The way it was handled last time resulted in the USA losing its AAA credit rating for first time in history.

Now this is not going to be up to you, sir. It's going to be up to a new Congress that you're not going to be part of to avert another debacle on that front. Give me some sense of your optimism of how this will be handled going forward. In other words, have your new colleagues in Congress learned anything from this experience?

LATOURETTE: No. I think it is unreasonable to hand this off to the new guys who some of them have never served an elected office before. And to think they're going to come riding in here on horses and somehow solve something that we haven't been able to solve for years, is a little bit unfair to them and more than a little unrealistic.

VELSHI: What is your advice for them what is your advice for the new Congress? You didn't finish the job as well as you would have liked to. They're going to be handed over the situation and I suspect we'll be talking about budgetary matters and debt matters for a long time. What is your best advice to them?

LATOURETTE: Well, until people start putting the next generation and the future of the country ahead of their next election, we're going to continue to have this problem. This requires a big solution. It requires paying on everybody's side, on the Republican side taxes will have to be increased.

There is going to have to be more revenues. And on the Democratic side, they're going to have to come to the realization that two-thirds of the budge set tied up in the middle class entitlements and unless you make some reforms, of programs that were created in the 30s and 50s, we're going to continue to go over cliff after cliff after cliff.

VELSHI: Congressman Steve Latourette, thanks for the work you've tried to do to get a deal on this whole thing and we wish you the best in your post congressional life. Steve Latourette, Republican from Ohio. That's it for now, but thanks to the fiscal cliff in Washington dysfunction.

You and I are going to be seeing a lot of each other as we head towards 2013. Keep watching. We'll ring in the New Year together with some breaking news. I'll join you later today. I'm out.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Sunday marked the end of the NFL's regular season. The day after usually isn't too kind to head coaches on losing teams, but even a winning record cannot guarantee a job security these days.

Yes, it has been a firing frenzy today on the NFL's so-called Black Monday. Seven coaches got their pink slips, most before 11:00 a.m. Eastern, the most shocking to football fans, Chicago Bears Head Coach, Lovie Smith.

He is getting the boot after nine seasons, which included a trip to the Super Bowl. His team finished 10-6, but missed the playoffs. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler got the news during a live radio show.

The Kansas City Chiefs parted ways with Romeo Crennel after his team struggled through a two-win season that was marred by the murder/suicide involving linebacker Jovan Belcher.

Other notable names, Eagles Coach Andy Reid, Chan Gailey, Ken Whisenhunt, Pat Shurmur, Norv Turner and, well, front office jobs around the league, they're not safe today either. The Jets, Cardinals, Chargers, Jaguars, and Browns have all let their general managers go.

Well, if you're still looking for a New Year's resolution, consider trying something completely new. You can pay for things with your cell phone. He likes to take chances in the hopes of opening his mind to creativity. Here is a preview of this week's "THE NEXT LIST."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't actually sit down and come up with an idea. Basically I try to free my mind from distractions and then my mind wanders and wanders on to problems. I'm trying to be creative. I try to relax and try to do things that make me think differently. Travel is wonderful. Putting myself in uncomfortable positions is a great way to generate ideas.

This is very hard to shape glass. It is takes years of practice. It is difficult. Every time I come into the studio, I got some sort of new challenge and something that I would like to learn how to do better and material never disappoints me. My job is to shape it and balance it at the same time. You can do that, you get these wonderful shapes. Glass really rewards risk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jim is sort of this renaissance guy. Whatever he tries to do, he does exceedingly well. He perfects. He also has a gift for musician. Has a gift for art or more than a gift, a passion.


FEYERICK: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being treated at New York Presbyterian Hospital for a blood clot. The clot was discovered during a follow-up examine for a concussion she suffered last month. She will stay in the hospital at least for 48 hours.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more on the likely causes of her medical setback -- Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first off, Deb, we don't know exactly where this blood clot is. They say it's somewhere in her body, unrelated to the concussion. There's a key point here. That is, they've decided to treat this with blood thinners or anti-coagulants.

That's important because if this were a blood clot actually sitting on top of the brain, because of the brain injury, the concussion, blood thinners would be the last thing you'd probably want to do. It could worsen the bleeding and would prevent her from having an operation if it's necessary.

Again, no one is saying if that's the case here. Blood clots that are treated with blood thinners or anti-coagulants are typically ones found in the blood vessels, the veins specifically. You may have heard of a deep vein thrombosis.

That's a blood clot that can form in the leg. That can be concerning, because it can break off and possibly go to the lung, known as a pulmonary embolism. That's one of the things they want to prevent using these blood thinners.

We know she'll be in the hospital for two days, Deb. We know that she's getting blood thinning medications. They'll make sure she's well hydrated. They then make sure she is up walking around. This is a common thing.

For the secretary of state, it's actually even more so, because she's had this before, back in 1998. So we'll keep an eye on things, Deb. If things come to us, we'll certainly bring them to you.

FEYERICK: OK, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

"The Hunger Games," "James Bond," "Lincoln," what did they have in common? All big blockbusters, a record breaking year. Details of that just ahead.


FEYERICK: So it turns out movie ticket sales hit a record this year. Great movies out. Alison Kosik joining us with the latest information. What's coming up, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Deb, you're right. It was a huge year at the Box Office. Movie goers had a record $10.8 billion in tickets just this year. With the total number of tickets sold rising for the first time in three years. A big reason for it was because it was a big year for blockbuster movies. Look at "The Avengers." That really led the way with more than $620 million in sales in the U.S. alone.

Also helping, "The Hobbit," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Skyfall," it's a pretty good flick that I saw. It also helped that many theaters have switched to digital projectors which helps them move to extra screens to meet the demand.

Also social media builds up a big buzz behind these films. That's driven more people to the Box Office than in previous years. That's been a good thing for shares of movie studios and movie chains.

To give you one example, Lions Gate, which owns "The Hunger Games" franchise, that movie did really well in the theaters. Lions Gate has seen its stock price almost double this year -- Deb.

FEYERICK: And what sort of an impact, Alison, did it have that they were more movies on more screens? It just means there were more movies altogether, it just means that there were more showings. That clearly had to have an impact.

KOSIK: Yes, I mean, just think about it. When you're going to see a movie, if you have more choices of where and what times to go, you're more likely to get out there and go see one. I know if the time's not accommodating for my schedule, I'm not going to go see a movie.

So that really helps. I think social media also helped quite a bit. Twitter, Facebook, you know, you sort of feel that, you see everybody else enjoying these films and you think, I'm going to catch that flick, it looks good -- Deb.

FEYERICK: I'm so far behind on my movie going. I have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.

KOSIK: A lot of good ones out there.

FEYERICK: Alison Kosik, thank you. Happy New Year.

Other stories developing this hour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is suffering from new complications as he recovers from cancer surgery. His vice president announced the medical setback after visiting the 50-year-old in Cuba. Chavez has been fighting a respiratory infection. No word whether he'll be able to return to his country for the start of the new six-year term on January 10th.

And we're learning new details about the deadly attack in Libya that killed a U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. A bipartisan Senate report released today gives a scathing assessment of the State Department's failure to protect the consulate in Benghazi. Watch what ranking member of the committee Susan Collins had to say.


SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: The terrorists essentially walked into the compound virtually unimpeded and set it ablaze due to extremely poor security. In a threat environment that the undersecretary of state, Patrick Kennedy himself, has conceded was flashing red.


FEYERICK: Another big finding, the committee says the department relied too heavily on Libyan security guards who were known to be unreliable. This report comes after a similar scathing assessment by an independent state department board which led to a top security official and three others at the department stepping down.

A charter bus crash in Northern Oregon has killed nine people and injured at least 26 more. The bus skidded on ice, crashed through a guardrail and then tumbled several hundred feet down a steep embankment Sunday. Emergency responders, some trained in rope rescues helped bring victims back up to the driveway. The driver has not spoken to authorities. He was severely injured in the crash.

The second firefighter killed in a Christmas Eve ambush has been laid to rest. He was the youngest member of the fire department. He was on duty that morning so those other firefighters with young children could have the holiday off.

His obituary described him as, quote, "everyone's little brother who died doing what he loved." His comrade, Lieutenant Mike Chipirini, was laid to rest Sunday. The family says they're asking people to do acts of service in his honor. The two unsuspecting firefighters were shot and killed while battling a house fire set by the gunman.

That will do it for this hour of NEWSROOM. We want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year and a great 2013. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, in "THE SITUATION ROOM" up now.