Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the House, says she's optimistic that Democrats and Republicans will reach a deal that would avoid triggering a wide array of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year and that experts say could send the economy into a recession.
"We were there last summer," she said in an interview with All Things Considered's Robert Siegel this afternoon. "The president agreed to a grand bargain that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. Speaker Boehner walked away from that. He said the president walked away from that. Well, let's all walk back to it."
What Pelosi, a California representative, was referring to is the talks that happened during the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, last year.
"I believe that Democrats and Republicans alike are responsible," she said, "that we've reached a level of maturity that we know what we have to do for our country."
Pelosi added that Congress should act to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on middle class Americans and set them aside from those that affect households earning more than $250,000 a year.
Robert asked Pelosi if Democrats were willing to cut entitlements, which make up a large percentage of the budget.
She said that Democrats had already proposed more than $1 trillion in cuts.
"We have to make cuts," she said. But they have to be made carefully so they won't affect growth. Pelosi added that Democrats want to continue making investments in infrastructure and education, yet they know they have to make "tough choices."
But the minority leader kept coming back to the bargain the two sides had agreed to last year. A bargain, she said, that the American public approved of when they reelected President Obama.
"This is just a decision," she said. "There's no mystery; there's no new factors that are going to enter into the situation.
"The debate is a clear one. The people have spoken. The president campaigned on this balanced and fair, big agreement. Now let's just get down and write it."
Robert also asked Pelosi if she would be open to raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.
Pelosi said she would not start there. It wouldn't be fair, she said, to make changes to those programs before asking wealthy Americans to pay "their fair share."
Pelosi also praised Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole as courageous. Cole broke with his GOP colleagues by saying Republicans should just go ahead and extend tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans and leave the discussion about the rest for later.
That, said Pelosi, is "indicative of some common sense coming from their caucus."
Much more of Robert and Pelosi's conversation is on tonight's edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find a local NPR member station that carries the program. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview on this post later on tonight.