The president’s primary negotiator for the tax cut deal on Capitol Hill told me the administration will hold the line in two years when those cuts expire despite the surge of incoming GOP congressmen about to flood Capitol Hill.
“George, that's why I think I felt confident in being asked by the President to negotiate a deal on taxes that the equities and the economic imperatives are going to be to not extend the high end tax cut, which would cost $700 billion over 10 years. And not extend this overly generous estate tax,” Vice President Joe Biden told me.
Is that a guarantee?
“Nothing’s a guarantee,” he said.
“But I think all the equities, if people look at it objectively, are going to say we have to cut spending. We have to deal with tax revenues. And the obvious, obvious place to do that is not to add another $700 billion dollars to the debt for the high end tax cuts and/or another $120 billion dollars to the debt for this overly generous estate tax,” Biden told me.
Another hot topic during this lame-duck session of Congress – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which Obama signed into law on Wednesday.
The vice president agreed with Obama’s comments that his position on gay marriage is “evolving.” Biden said there is an “inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage.”
“I think the country's evolving. And I think you're going to see, you know, the next effort is probably going to be to deal with so called DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act],” he said.
President Obama called it the “most productive post-election period that we've had in decades.”
Biden – who also had a prominent role in the passage of the nuclear arms deal with Russia – said the combination of the demand for cooperation from the public and the urgency of a short timeframe helped.
“It either makes it impossible or accelerates the prospect of it happening. And I think in this case it accelerated the prospect of it happening,” he said.
But cooperation will be more challenging next term, he said, and offered words of warning for the new Republicans members.
“I think that what appears to be sort of a slam dunk for some very conservative Republicans' point of view is not-- is going to turn out not to be so easy. I think there's going to be a need on everyone's part, and a realization that it's in everyone's interest politically to cooperate in dealing with keeping the economy growing and beginning to address the long-term debt,” he said.
Out of Afghanistan by 2014 ‘Come Hell or High Water’?
This White House took a slight step back from Biden’s comments on NBC this week that the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan by 2014 “come hell or high water.”
But Biden did not back off that statement, telling me that he is “absolutely confident” that those withdrawals will take place.
“That was the reason I was so definitive. It, by the way, it was in the context of my making-- analogizing what we did in Iraq by over a three year period getting out of the cities, then reducing to 100,000 troops, then getting out completely,” he said.
I asked if that will also include closing Bagram and Kandahar air bases. The answer? Maybe not.
“I think there's equally a prospect that they'll remain open as closed,” Biden said. “But we're not going to be there with 100-- my generic point was there're not going to be 140,000 ISAF forces, International Security Forces, in Afghanistan by the year 2014.”
North Korea: “It Is Dicey”
Speaking to administration officials this week I detected a heightened concern about North Korea – perhaps the highest level of concern yet.
Biden called the situation “dicey” and said there is “reason for concern” following North Korea’s deadly attack on a small South Korean island last month.
“That's why we have to keep cooperating, particular with the Chinese, to get them to continue to put pressure on the North…and the North needs the Chinese for a whole range of reasons. And so that's where the main pressure point can come,” he said.