Dallas Residents Weigh In On 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks

The battle over the looming spending cuts and tax increases known as the "fiscal cliff" begins this week where it ended last week — deadlocked. While there is no agreement on how lawmakers should work out the details of a compromise, there is widespread consensus that a deal must get done for the good of the country.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The battle over the looming spending cuts and tax increases, known as the fiscal cliff, begins this week where it ended last week - deadlocked. President Obama, and Republicans in Congress, each blame the other for the lack of progress toward a deal. So while Washington bickers and postures, we wanted a sense of what people outside the Beltway think. NPR's Wade Goodwyn went out to talk to some of his fellow residents in Dallas.

LINDA ORTMAN: Every time I turn on the radio, there is another story about the fiscal cliff.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Linda Ortman is a stay-at-home mother of three young girls, ages 14, 12 and 9. Like many Americans, Ortman has been riding along attentively as the nation approaches the fiscal cliff.

Do you feel like it's a fiscal cliff, a fiscal death spiral, or more of a fiscal slow wade into the deep end? How would you...

(LAUGHTER)

GOODWYN: Because we call it fiscal cliff, but how do you see it?

ORTMAN: I see it as more of a slope. I think if nothing is done, that there will be changes; and that everybody will be touched by it, in some way.

GOODWYN: When a poll taken by the Pew Research Center asked Americans whether they believed President Obama and the House Republicans will come to an agreement, more than half said no. But Ortman believes they will.

ORTMAN: I believe so. I believe there's too much at stake. I feel like something needs to be done. But I think that for the last four years, there were things that should have been done, could have been done. And I believe that Congress has dragged their feet on it. And now, their feet are being held to the fire. And they're going to be forced to do something.

GOODWYN: With their one-income family, the Ortmans land firmly in the middle-class tax bracket. But when I ask if she would be willing to see their taxes go up if it would be used to pay down the debt and save social programs, Ortman says yes.

ORTMAN: Everybody should pay their fair share. And if we need to pay a little more, then I think that's what we should do.

GOODWYN: At Barbec's, a well-known East Dallas diner, 41-year-old Internet executive Paul Dybala takes a break from a busy day, with a cup of coffee. Born and bred in Dallas, Dybala is a lifelong Republican, like his father before him. He's like the majority of Americans, according to the Pew poll. When it comes to the fiscal cliff, he's followed the subject a little, but...

PAUL DYBALA: To be honest with you, not very close. And I don't know if - do we go over a fiscal cliff, or is this to prevent one? Or I don't know if is this some kind of buzzword to scare people. But something was going to happen if Congress didn't do something, at some point.

GOODWYN: Dybala's got a busy job; a wife who works; and four kids under the age of 10, the latest just born. He says it was the phrase "fiscal cliff" that first made him pay attention. But the news reports were so convoluted, he never got a handle on it. He now understands that the core issue is reducing the deficit. And for him, that is one of the most important issues facing the country.

DYBALA: Well, it's huge.

GOODWYN: Dybala and his wife both make enough money that their income falls inside the top federal income tax bracket. Dybala is willing to pay more, but he doesn't think it would be enough. He thinks all spending - including defense spending - should get cut some. But he doesn't believe the nation can cut its way to glory. So that leaves taxes. Dybala says the nation needs to bite the bullet, and raise taxes on both the wealthy and the middle-class. In some ways, he sounds like Warren Buffett.

DYBALA: How you lead is, you lead by example. Is it a bummer that you've got to pay more taxes? Yeah. You know, I'm not going to deny that.

GOODWYN: When I suggest that his proposal doesn't sound very Republican, Dybala insists that putting the nation's finances in order is the essence of fiscal conservatism.

And so these two particular Dallasites - Republican Paul Dybala, in his top tax bracket; and Democrat Linda Ortman, in her middle-class bracket - have come to the same place on the fiscal cliff. They're willing to pay higher taxes on the condition that the federal government cuts the deficit, and saves the social and defense programs they believe the nation needs.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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Correction Dec. 3, 2012

An early version of this story incorrectly said that a Pew poll was taken last week. It was actually done Nov. 8-11.

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