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First Thoughts: A deal is in sight -- the question is how big

A deal is in sight; the only question is how big… NYT: Boehner is safer with his rank-and-file than ever before… Republicans are willing to concede -- but want something in return… Obama to take his fiscal-cliff campaign to home of Northern Virginia family to demonstrate the impact of middle-class taxes going up… Meet Ted Yoho… And Perriello decides not to run for VA GOV.

President Barack Obama headed to Virginia where he reminded the public that if the fiscal cliff isn't averted, taxes will increase on 98 percent of Americans next year. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** A deal is in sight -- the question is how big: We said this yesterday, and we’ll say it again: Everything out there suggests that Washington isn’t going off the cliff. The Washington Post reports that Republican centrists and even some conservatives are calling on House Speaker Boehner “to concede on rates now, while he still has some leverage to demand something in return.” And the New York Times observes that Boehner has more support from his rank-and-file than ever before, which gives him more flexibility to cut a deal. So perhaps some of our media brethren should stop with the sky-is-falling headlines. But here’s the big question: Can Washington get a large deal? One option to avoid the fiscal cliff is to simply extend the Bush-era tax cuts for income below $250,000 and punt the rest of the fight until next year, which would produce another political stalemate and a potential battle over raising the debt ceiling. The other option is to construct a big deal to take care of everything now (or at least create the framework for getting it done). The first option is the easy way out, but it only postpones the fight. The second option is harder, but it’s also the opportunity for a legacy. Which option will President Obama and congressional Republicans ultimately pursue? That’s what the next two weeks are about. One thing the next two weeks are NOT about is going over the cliff. If no big deal is achieved, then there will be a middle-class tax rate extension bill passed that allows rates on the top 2% to go up either to 37% or to 39%.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, gestures as he speak to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, following a closed-door GOP strategy session.

*** Boehner’s safer than ever before: As mentioned above, the New York Times notes a pretty significant development in the budget debate: House Speaker John Boehner has more support from his rank-and-file than he’s ever had. “Should his support hold up, Mr. Boehner, who faced a frequent battering from his own members over the last two years as he tried to seal deals on various spending agreements, would be better able to negotiate from a point of relative Republican unity.” More: “On Wednesday, in a private meeting between Mr. Boehner and House Republicans, member after member spoke in support of him, in some cases saying a deal they would have rejected six months ago would most likely be taken today. ‘I want to be a strong advocate and say that I am with the speaker,’ said Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia, a House freshman. ‘I am with the leadership.’” One of the reasons why Boehner appears safer than ever before is that his whole leadership team (Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy/Paul Ryan) seems to be all on board. That’s a difference from 2011. But while it’s true Boehner’s safer than ever in leadership, he does have more PUBLIC conservative critics in the rank-n-file which is anything but helpful for him.

*** Willing to concede -- but in order to get something in return: Relatedly, the Washington Post reports that Republican centrists and even some conservatives are calling on Boehner “to concede on rates now, while he still has some leverage to demand something in return. Republicans are eager to win changes to fast-growing safety-net programs, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare and applying a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits.” More: “‘I and some others are advocating giving the president what he wants,’ said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio). But he stressed that this must be part of a package that slows federal borrowing and reduces the debt by $4 trillion to $5 trillion. ‘Quite frankly, some people in this 2 percent who call me, they’re more worried about the fiscal cliff than about the rates going up a couple points. That has bigger risk for them,’ said LaTourette, a close Boehner ally who is retiring in January.”

*** Today’s fiscal-cliff moving parts: Your fiscal-cliff photo-op of the day: President Obama is taking his campaign to the home of a family in Northern Virginia (Falls Church) to highlight the issue of the middle class tax rates. It’s one of the White House’s “#my2K” families… A new Quinnipiac poll has Obama’s approval rating among registered at 53% (his highest mark in the poll in three years), and it shows that 53% of voters trust Obama and the Democrats more in the fiscal-cliff debate, versus 36% who trust Republicans more… And at 9:30 am ET Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill will hold a hearing on the fiscal cliff and the effects it could have on the economy.

*** Meet Ted Yoho: NBC’s Carrie Dann has profiled 10 fresh faces to watch in the new Congress, and we’ll be previewing one of these each day. Today’s profile: Ted Yoho. Dann writes, “The country met Ted Yoho this year through his hogs. A large animal veterinarian in north central Florida, the conservative won national attention for a quirky ad that featured piggy-looking ‘career politicians’ in business suits feeding at a trough alongside real porkers. Yoho, a proponent of the consumption-based Fair Tax, has said that he won't be put into political ‘handcuffs’ by signing anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist's pledge. ‘If you sign a pledge like [Norquist's], you've got handcuffs on,’ he told NPR. The upset winner of a primary against 12-term incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns, Yoho imitated NFL player Tim Tebow's prayerful victory kneel for supporters after his win. He has promised constituents that he will serve no longer than eight years in Congress.”

*** Perriello decides not to run: Former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello (D) yesterday said that he would NOT run for Virginia governor, which pretty much locks in a general election contest between Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe. (But as the AP reminds us, Cuccinelli will have one person still challenging for the GOP nomination -- Tareq Salahi, who was best known for crashing a 2009 state dinner at the White House.)

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