WATCH: Alan Simpson Bets Drinks On Taxes For The Rich

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) added some buzz to the fiscal cliff conversation on Sunday.

In an appearance on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Simpson vowed that he would bet a bar tab on a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans.

“If anybody out there who’s quote “rich” doesn’t think their taxes will go up, the drinks are on me,” he said. “I’ll cover it.”

Simpson has been an ardent critic of Democrats and Republicans’ inability to reach an agreement that will avoid the fiscal cliff. He told the “Today” show on Wednesday that Congress “put the chain on their own ankle.”

Appointed in 2010 as co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Simpson has advocated for a mix of revenue and cuts to remedy the United States’ monetary issues.

“You can’t grow your way out of this hole, and you can’t tax your way out of this hole,” he said in May 2012. “So put that in your pipe and smoke it, we tell these people. This is madness.”

As "fiscal cliff" nears, market complacency sets in

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Like many on Wall Street, investor Todd Petzel cringed when U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this past Wednesday that he was ready to let the economy go over the “fiscal cliff” if Republicans would not agree to higher tax rates on the rich.

Jacqui Dunne: Rethinking Money

A major contributor to Switzerland’s buoyancy is a business-to-business currency and the banking institution behind it. The story of this success has its initiation during the bleak days of the Depression.

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Obama, Boehner Discuss Fiscal Cliff At White House

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Sunday at the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations over the impending “fiscal cliff,” the first meeting between just the two leaders since Election Day.

Spokesmen for both Obama and Boehner said they agreed to not release details of the conversation, but emphasized that the lines of communication remain open.

The meeting comes as the White House and Congress try to break an impasse over finding a way to stop a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of next year.

Obama met in November with Boehner, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The president spoke by telephone with Reid and in person with Pelosi on Friday.

Obama has been pushing higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans as one way to reduce the deficit – a position Boehner and other House Republicans have been steadfastly against. Republicans are demanding steeper cuts in costly government entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

One GOP senator said Sunday that Senate Republicans would probably agree to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans if it meant getting a chance to overhaul entitlement programs.

The comments by Bob Corker of Tennessee – a fiscal conservative who has been gaining stature in the Senate as a pragmatic deal broker – puts new pressure on Boehner and other Republican leaders to rethink their long-held assertion that even the very rich shouldn’t see their rates go up next year. GOP leaders have argued that the revenue gained by hiking the top two tax rates would be trivial to the deficit, and that any tax hike hurts job creation.

But Corker said insisting on that red line – especially since Obama won re-election after campaigning on raising tax rates on the wealthy – might not be wise.

“There is a growing group of folks looking at this and realizing that we don’t have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before year end,” Corker told “Fox News Sunday.”

If Republicans agree to Obama’s plan to increase rates on the top 2 percent of Americans, Corker added, “the focus then shifts to entitlements and maybe it puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves the nation.”

Besides getting tax hikes through the Republican-dominated House, Corker’s proposal faces another hurdle: Democrats haven’t been receptive to GOP proposals on the entitlement programs. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Sunday was skeptical about proposals to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. He said he doesn’t see Congress addressing the complicated issue of Medicare overhaul in the three weeks remaining before the end of the year.

“I just don’t think we can do it in a matter of days here before the end of the year,” Durbin said. “We need to address that in a thoughtful way through the committee structure after the first of the year.”

And hard-line fiscal conservatives in the House are holding fast to their position.

“No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Added Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: “I’m not sure there is support for the rate hikes. There is support for revenue by cleaning up the code.”

Still, at least one House Republican has said there is another way. Rep. Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, has said Obama and Boehner should agree not to raise tax rates on the majority of Americans and negotiate the rates for top earners later. Cole said Sunday that most House Republicans would vote for that approach because it doesn’t include a rate hike.

“You know, it’s not waving a white flag to recognize political reality,” Cole said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., already has said he could support higher tax rates on upper incomes as part of a comprehensive plan to cut the federal deficit.

When asked Sunday what it would take to sign on to a tax rate increase, Coburn echoed Corker’s comments by responding, “Significant entitlement reform.” He quickly added, however, that he has estimated that such a tax rate increase would only affect about 7 percent of the deficit.

“Will I accept a tax increase as a part of a deal to actually solve our problems? Yes,” Coburn said. “But the president’s negotiating with the wrong people. He needs to be negotiating with our bondholders in China, because if we don’t put a credible plan on the discussion, ultimately, we all lose.”

Obama’s plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, partly by letting decade-old tax cuts on the country’s highest earners expire at the end of the year. He would continue those Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making above $250,000. The highest rates on top-paid Americans would rise from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent.

Boehner has offered $800 billion in new revenues to be raised by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks on upper-income people. The Republican plan would cut spending by $1.4 trillion, including by trimming annual increases in Social Security payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Hensarling and Coburn spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Blackburn and Cole spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Durbin spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Analysis: As China’s clout grows, sea policy proves unfathomable

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Imagine if the U.S. state of Hawaii passed a law allowing harbor police to board and seize foreign boats operating up to 1,000 km (600 miles) from Honolulu.

In giant "garage sale", Japan’s TV giants hawk $3 billion of assets

TOKYO (Reuters) – Panasonic Corp, Japan’s struggling maker of Viera brand TVs, owns more than 10 million square meters of office and factory space, dormitories for its workers and sports facilities for its rugby, baseball and women’s athletics teams.

Square Adds Passbook Integration and Gift Cards

Square CEO Jack Dorsey today announced via Twitter that Square has added gift card capabilities to its iOS apps. The gift cards come alongside Passbook integration, which allows customers to send Square gift cards from local retailers and redeem them with Passbook.

Both of Square’s iOS apps, merchant and consumer, have been updated to reflect the new changes.

Square Wallet, the consumer half of Square’s payment system, gives customers the ability to purchase and receive gift cards from any retailer that uses Square Register to process payments. Many small businesses that previously didn’t offer gift cards will now be able to via Square.

Square Register, which is designed for merchants, lets business owners accept the gift cards using a QR code, Square Wallet, or Apple’s Passbook.

Square says the process is a simple one.

Give
Find a place your friends or family will love in Square Wallet. Choose the amount, write a special message, pick a theme and send. Instant gratification.

Receive
Save your Square gift card to Square Wallet so it’s there when you need it. Using it is as easy as buying with Square Wallet. Simply say your name.

With Passbook integration, iOS users don’t even need to access Square Wallet, which greatly simplifies the act of giving and receiving gift cards. This update will likely add a significant boost to the $10 billion per year in payments that Square already processes, and it is also a huge boon for independent retailers.

Both of Square’s apps, Square Wallet and Square Register, are free downloads in the App Store.

Mary Ellen Harte: Climate Change This Week: Plastic Lightbulbs, Bye-Bye Reindeer and More!

Rudolph and friends are dying off, as Arctic snow now occasionally melts, then refreezes into impenetrable ice, covering reindeer food, explains Jeff Flocken at Living On Earth.

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