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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Senator Johnny Isakson; Ringing in 2013 in Times Square; Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin to Host CNN's NYE

Aired December 31, 2012 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: It's now just over 15 hours before the U.S. falls over the fiscal cliff, and that could put us on a painful road back to a recession. But we are hearing this morning that Democrats have offered a compromise over the weekend, raising the tax hike threshold from $250,000 to $450,000. Yesterday Democrats and Republicans turned to their so-called closers, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to get a behind the scenes deal done. There is no word of a breakthrough, but we understand those negotiations went on late into the night.

Earlier on STARTING POINT, here's how Maryland's Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen characterized the odds of getting a fiscal cliff deal done before midnight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: I think there is some good news. The conversations continued late into the night last night. I think now there's a better than 50-50 chance we will avoid the fiscal cliff by midnight tonight. One big question, of course, is whether an agreement put together by the senators on a bipartisan basis, whether that can pass the House of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Johnny Isakson is a Republican from Georgia. Senator Isakson has said, in the absence of an agreement, he would vote for a Bill that would make the Bush tax cut permanent for families making under $250,000. Welcome to the program. Characterize for me where we stand right now.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON, (R) GEORGIA: I think we stand close to a deal. First of all, I'm not sure we have the inside information, but I do believe the revenue issue is no longer a question. The question is making sure any new revenues go to debt spending reduction and deficit relief rather than new spending. It's deficits that got us into this problem. It's only reducing deficits that get us out of this problem.

VELSHI: Senator, just to be clear, this reporting the Democrats have offered, $450,000, your best information is that that has been accepted? ISAKSON: No, that's not my best information, but it's my best belief that they've reached an agreement on revenues. What that level is, I don't know, but the question now is where those revenues go. If they go to new spending, we're going to have a problem making a deal because spending has been our problem. But if they go towards deficit reduction, which ultimately will be debt relief, that will be a good thing, and we probably will have a deal.

VELSHI: Senator, let's talk about the process very quickly. We are told the Senate will come back into session at 11:00 this morning. That somehow reflects on the fact that seems to be a late start to the working day, but there's work being done right now. Tell me what that work is.

ISAKSON: You know, any time you're putting a deal together, it's always the details that will kill you, and you have to get the details done. So there's a lot of back room operation going right now, making sure all the i's get dotted and the t's get crossed. I'm sure a final deal hasn't been agreed to, but as long as Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden are talking -- remember they are the two that last August made the budget control act possible that got us the postponement to get this deadline now. So we've got our best two negotiators at the table.

ROMANS: I want to ask you about the markets. Last week the markets were down every single day, almost two percent in stocks after what's been a pretty good year. And let me be really honest with you, that's a surprise to me, because of all the uncertainty the fiscal cliff has wrought in the economy.

Here's an interesting comment from Senator Tim Johnson, your colleague, a Democrat, "Sometimes all the market takes is to make them see the light." That is via "Politico." If you don't get a deal and the markets are closed tomorrow, and you open to a couple of really big down days this week, is that what it takes to really drive a solution, do you think?

ISAKSON: I hope not. Congress should have learned in September of 2008 in what failure to pass the initial TARP bill, what can happen to the markets, to consumer confidence, and to the American economy.

ROMANS: Is that thought still fresh?

ISAKSON: It's fresh in our mind. I remember the midnight vote we had to pass TARP in the Senate that stabilized our economy and probably saved our financial markets. We don't need to revisit that turmoil again.

VELSHI: We've heard all kinds of stuff all morning. As you know, senator, you probably hear this from your constituents, they're so disinterested in the process, they're so disinterested in the sausage being made. What they want to know if that there are like-minded, good, smart people in that Congress we're looking at right now who all have phones and Blackberries and actually work in the same building. Is there enough good will to ensure that a deal gets done today? ISAKSON: We've got to stop pointing fingers at each other and start looking at the American people because it's their lives and their money we're paying for. Just to throw back to the last segment, we need a little more omega-3 in Washington and little less partisanship.

ROMANS: Throwing back to the last segment. Talking about the "Doc Fix," there's a bunch of patches we do every single year. Doctors are freaking out about this because there's a 20 percent pay cut coming. What about these other things besides just taxes? How much of this do you think are going to get fixed today? There are tax cuts, spending, unemployment benefits, doc fix. There's a lot of stuff that's hanging. That's why it's called a cliff.

ISAKSON: There will be temporary patches, I'm sure. This is not going to be a macro deal. This is probably going to be a micro deal. We'll be back at work, when we come back after swearing in, working on those items.

VELSHI: Do you get some sense that -- look, today's the day that we actually officially hit the debt ceiling in the United States, $16.4 trillion. Treasury says they can move things around, about $200 billion worth of payments, around probably for the next few weeks or so. Is this going to become another battle of the wills, or do you think we'll have any movement on that in today's discussions?

ISAKSON: This is Congress' truth. I was a businessman for 30 years. I know the miracle of compound interest, but I also know the disaster of compound debt. We're at equal GDP and debt right now. If we continue to borrow and go past our GDP and go into a negative balance sheet, then we're going to compound our debt, not compound our earnings, and America is not going to be the country you and I have loved for centuries.

ROMANS: Congressman, moment of truth. I agree with that.

VELSHI: Senator Johnny Isakson, thank you for joining us. As we have for all of your colleagues, we wish you good deliberations today. Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

ROMANS: I'm glad to hear the memory of TARP is fresh. In 2008 they didn't pass a bank bailout, and it was really chaotic.

VELSHI: And that Monday the Dow dropped 777 points. By Friday Congress had a real.

ROMANS: This week "Smart is the New Rich," what else, preparing for the fiscal cliff because smart is the new rich.

By now, it's pretty much certain your taxes are going up. Your taxes are going up. We asked tax and personal finance expert John Lieberman what he's telling his clients to do to brace for impact.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LIEBERMAN, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: You're going to have to start making adjustments now on a week to week basis because withholding is taken out on a week by week basis. If your taxes go up by $200, that's $4 a week. So you buy one less Starbucks, or you decide to defer that doughnut.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You really do have to adjust the budget. Lieberman also says the smart thing to do is plan for the worst, hope for the best. That means we will go over the cliff and Congress will do nothing to reverse the effects. For middle income folks, you'll owe an extra $2,000 to Uncle Sam. Folks making more than $108,000 a year, you'll owe more than $13,000 a year to Uncle Sam on average. Lieberman says fiscal cliff uncertainty has put the brakes on those decisions and it's already affecting the economy. We learned last week and consumer confidence plunged this month. Confidence was at a four-year high in October. Congress has forced all of us to begin planning for the worst.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's 40 minutes after the hour now. Time to check top stories. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is said to be suffering from complications following cancer surgery in Cuba. His vice president characterized Chavez's health as delicate because of a respiratory infection. It's not clear whether the Venezuelan leader will be able to return to his country for the start of his new six-year term scheduled to start on January 10th.

The second of two volunteer firefighters killed in an ambush on Christmas Eve will be laid to rest. And 19-year-old Thomas Kaczowka will be laid to rest today. Yesterday firefighters from all over the country as far as away as California came to attend the funeral of Lieutenant Michael Chapersky.

A woman accused of pushing a man off a New York City subway platform has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric examine. And 31 year old Erica Menendez is charged with murder as a hate crime. Police say Menendez has hated Muslims and Hindus since 9/11 and told them she pushed 46-year-old Indian immigrant to his death last week because, quote, "She thought it would be cool."

A 21-year-old Iowa man in big trouble. He was wanted for questioning in a robbery. Instead, he led police on a high speed chase through the streets of Des Moines. Police say he reached speeds of 100 miles an hour as he weaved through traffic.

ROMANS: That says Ankanie, which is a little outside Des Moines.

HAYES: She knows Iowa. He collided with another vehicle. Thankfully, no one was injured.

VELSHI: People from Des Moines would never do that.

(LAUGHTER)

GUPTA: A Chicago couple parents for the second time. Daughter Macy Carolyn Martinez didn't come into the world in a hospital. She was born on the side of a highway before mom could make it to the maternity ward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGAN MARTINEZ, MOTHER: I used to make fun of people that had babies on the side of the road because I couldn't understand how you didn't make it to the hospital in time, but after yesterday, now I understand how that truly does happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: That actually happened to my wife. She was born in a car.

ROMANS: She was?

GUPTA: She was.

ROMANS: Really?

GUPTA: She was. This story has a second part as well, by the way. The baby was born with her umbilical cord actually wrapped around her neck, and she wasn't breathing. Fortunately, dad is an Illinois state trooper trained to deal with such an emergency. He was the MVP after the VIP.

ROMANS: And Sanjay passed out when his daughter was born in the car. No.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: That's a good story. Just ahead on STARTING POINT, the world has already started ringing in the new year with the big party tonight in Times Square. We'll bring you live preparations for the famous ball drop. You are watching STARTING POINT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: And we are back with STARTING POINT, as we get ready to mark a brand new starting point in the new year. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to brave the subfreezing cold tonight, these temperatures, to ring in 2013 in Times Square. It's going to be an amazing spectacle.

Alina Cho is already there as preparations for the party kick into high gear. You know, there's a lot of people expected there, Alina. Again, these very cold temperatures. What are you seeing? Do you think people are ready?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDNET: Yes, people are already lined up, Sanjay. They're in for a long day and a long night because for all of the talk about the crystal ball and the confetti and new year's resolutions, here's what you really need to know if you plan to come to Times Square tonight: dress warmly. It is going to feel like it's below freezing tonight when that crystal ball drops at the stroke of midnight.

Joining me now to talk a little bit more about this is Tim Tompkins. He's the president of the Times Square Alliance.

So Tim, thank you for joining us. Tell me, besides dressing warmly, what else do people need to know if they plan to come here tonight?

TIM TOMPKINS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: They need to know that they need to come here and not bring a bag because the police will slow them down, just to keep it simple and be ready for a night of great entertainment.

CHO: And come early, right? What goes into planning the world's biggest New Year's Eve party?

TOMPKINS: It's really checking that everything's coordinated and everything's working because when you have a billion people watching, you really don't want to mess it up.

CHO: And you had a great reference to the fiscal cliff, rightt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Jimmy Kimmel (INAUDIBLE). He's assaulting me. Help!

TOMPKINS: Sorry.

CHO: We obviously have a little distraction here. But I can tell you -- thank you very much, Tim Tompkins. But for the distraction, hopefully that won't be any of that tonight.

GUPTA: It's going to be safe, just verbose.

CHO: I can tell you, in my nearly nine years at CNN, that has never happened to me. But one thing I do want to point out before I let you go is that -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (YELLING IN BACKGROUND)

CHO: He just won't stop. All right, one thing that I want to tell you, that I want to get in before I let you go, 26 percent of -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (YELLING IN BACKGROUND)

(LAUGHTER)

GUPTA: Does he have a microphone, Alina?

CHO: I'm going to turn it back to you guys.

GUPTA: Alina, we're going to let you go. We don't have a Jimmy Kimmel fan over there.

VELSHI: What's he yelling? He's yelling something about Jimmy Kimmel?

GUPTA: I don't know.

VELSHI: That guy's got a voice. We need to hire him.

ROMANS: The Lehman brothers failed, there were these two guys whostarted kissing. Remember?

GUPTA: I remember that very clearly.

VELSHI: They weren't -- to describe them as kissing would be an understatement. Amorous.

ROMANS: Well, I think they were Howard Stern people.

GUPTA: But they were doing more than kissing.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT.

VELSHI: Now we're going to talk about stripping.

ROMANS: She's stripped down to her underwear. She's thrown things at the Jonas Brothers. What does Kathy griffin have in store for tonight? I sat down with this comedian and our very own Anderson Cooper, and I was blushing in the first five seconds, but I got the dirt on their big New Year's Eve special. All I can say is watch out, Taylor Swift. Oh yes.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: They're back. Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin are getting their celebration on. This is year number six they're going to ring in the new year together here on CNN. Every year Kathy manages to surprise Anderson. Last year when she stripped down to her underwear. What surprises are in store this time?

Anderson and Kathy join us now. And do you stay up at night, Kathy, thinking, dreaming of ways to make him sweat or giggle that little Anderson Cooper giggle?

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: First of all, who are you and where's Soledad?

ROMANS: Oh Soledad's taking some much needed time off.

GRIFFIN: You're not black in America. You're not Latino in America.

ROMANS: I'm so Iowa. Look, there's a palace coup, and I'm here but only for today. So, my dear, do you stay up at night wondering how to make him giggle?

GRIFFIN: I have many, many things up my sleeve, which I don't feel Anderson needs to know about, certainly not today.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": It's like a wizard's sleeve.

GRIFFIN: But Anderson, tell Christine about the typical conversation we have the day before where you call me in my hotel and you usually start with like, ugh, and then you basically say what?

COOPER: I don't know what you're referring to. GRIFFIN: First of all, either you're scared of Ryan Seacrest because you're saying, "Ryan Seacrest called me. Did he call you? What does he want?" That's happened.

ROMANS: All right, what do you have up your sleeve this year? You can't swear. You've already taken off your clothes. One year you even threw, Kathy, some stuff at the Jonas Brothers. We have a clip of you throwing -- pelting these young men. Listen.

COOPER: I'm glad you have that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Let's throw stuff at the Jonas Brothers. You're frauds.

COOPER: You can't do that. You just threw something at the Jonas Brothers.

GRIFFIN: Yes, I did. I'm want to throw a rock at them if I can. That's how I roll, Andy.

COOPER: They're going to remove you from the stage. You cannot throw stuff.

GRIFFIN: I'll take -- what are their names? Go ahead.

COOPER: I don't know their names.

GRIFFIN: Herb.

COOPER: Is it really Herb?

GRIFFIN: Francis and Lefty. I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Anderson has already prevented you from throwing money into the crowd. Anderson, how are you going to hold her back?

COOPER: I don't know. I mean, last year we had a sign saying "No Nudity" that we had underneath the camera, and that didn't stop her.

GRIFFIN: Wholly unnecessary.

COOPER: It was completely necessary.

GRIFFIN: This year I'm going to get the purity rings off those Jonas Brothers because let's face it, they're a little expired, if you know what I'm saying.

ROMANS: Anderson, you could just go on vacation for New Year's. This is the sixth year with her, ten years altogether. You could just go to a beach.

COOPER: I know.

GRIFFIN: Oh, Anderson so goes to a beach in his head. Trust me, he goes to a safe place all the time.

ROMANS: With the right accent, maybe.

COOPER: I'm like rocking back and forth. I'm in a safe place in my head. I don't even know half of what she's saying.

GRIFFIN: I really think you should tell Christine, Anderson, all the detailed planning that you put into new year's.

ROMANS: You just show up, don't you, A.C.?

COOPER: I do. I just show up.

ROMANS: And then you don't even watch the tape. You show up and say you don't watch the tape.

COOPER: You can plan lots of stuff, but Kathy's going to do what Kathy's going to do. More of it is in response and try to mitigate the damage and apologizing to those she hurts slash insults slash molests.

GRIFFIN: Look, Taylor Swift has this coming and you know. Taylor Swift with her whiny songs about this boyfriend dumped me.

COOPER: I love Taylor Swift.

GRIFFIN: Oh, good, I'm going to rip her wig off. You heard me. I'm not going to stop until I rip off Taylor Swift's wig.

ROMANS: You know, I am not Soledad O'Brien. You're right. The resemblance is striking but I am not Soledad O'Brien, Kathy.

GRIFFIN: Where is Carol Costello when I need her?

ROMANS: I know she's in Hotlanta. Listen, what do you have to say to our morning audience? You people are night owls, right? So these people who are tuning in right now, 6:00 a.m., they're getting news before you're getting - like hours before you're getting up.

COOPER: Most people watching this show are coming back from clubs right now. So they're actually very night owls.

GRIFFIN: That's actually our demographic.

ROMANS: The clubgoers.

GRIFFINS: They started their evening at midnight, and they're just going to bed as you guys start your show. By the way, I didn't even know you had a show. So congratulations.

COOPER: They're very serotonin depleted and they're just about to go to bed.

ROMANS: Last question. When he's out there in the middle of nowhere in a scary story, what do you think when you see your friend out there, Kathy? GRIFFIN: Well, I think he should tell you what I do to comfort him as a good and loving friend. Anderson?

ROMANS: What does she do, Anderson?

COOPER: She sends me obscene messages, nasty messages. They're funny, no doubt about it. She makes me laugh. But she sends me messages as if she has no idea where I'm going and what I'm doing.

GRIFFIN: For example, during the Gaza strip crisis, I sent you a text that said.

COOPER: I can't remember. What did you say?

GRIFFIN: "I'm bored. I want to go for pizza tonight. What are you doing?"

COOPER: Right, exactly. And there had just been a big explosion for something. So you would think normally a friend would be like, "Wow, I saw that. I'm concerned about you." She's just like, "What are you up to? "

GRIFFIN: I forgot you were on TV.

ROMANS: That's what we love about you two.

GRIFFIN: I thought you were still modeling for Ralph Lauren. I didn't know you went on to the TV gig.

ROMANS: Happy new year to both of you.

GRIFFIN: Happy new year.

ROMANS: A lot more of that to come tonight. It's right here on CNN's "NEW YEAR'S EVE LIVE" with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. They'll kick it off from 10:00 Eastern from right there in the middle of Times Square. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, it will be a brand new year. We can forget all that old stuff, right? And we'll know if there's a deal on the fiscal cliff or not and what either outcome means for you and your money.

GUPTA: I'm anxious to know.

ROMANS: We're going to be talking with Sheila Bair, the former FDIC chairman, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp and Texas Congressman Lloyd Daggett. So a ton of stuff to talk about tomorrow and I certainly hope a deal has been done. I really do.

GUPTA: Great working with you today. Happy new year.

ROMANS: I know. You too. Have a good time tonight. Are you going to go to Times Square?

GUPTA: I'm going to run the park. 2013 starts with a run. I conned my wife into it as well. She'll join me.

ROMANS: All right. Great. Happy new year to you.

GUPTA: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Suzanne Malveaux begins right now.