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It's the final week before the debates begin and the presidential candidates are stepping up their campaigning as they try to shake loose what polls are still showing to be a very tight race. We'll hear about one of those polls of rural voters in just a minute. But first, both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney appeared last night on the CBS program "60 Minutes."
And joining us to talk about that and other political news, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So did you hear anything new from the two candidates last night?
ROBERTS: No, not really. Despite many cries from Republicans that Romney needs to give specifics of his plans, he refused to do that on his tax overhaul proposal. At the end of last week he released his 2011 tax returns. And so now the Democrats have changed their talking points from saying, what are in his tax returns, what are in his tax returns, to saying what's he going to do to your taxes. And that was their cry over the weekend. And he refused to answer that.
He also defended his campaign in the face of Republicans who keep insisting that it needs a reboot, especially after that 47 percent remark was revealed. Governor Romney says, look, that wasn't my campaign - that was me.
GREENE: When we talk about talking points on the two sides and pressure to reboot and so forth, I mean surely political junkies are following this back and forth. But are people out in the country in general following really closely at this point?
ROBERTS: Well, probably not most of them. But look, it does make a difference, David, in terms of governing. Elections have consequences, and the immediate consequences of this election will be felt in the lame duck session of Congress, which has a very, very heavy lift to try to keep the country from going off what's being called the fiscal cliff. And the campaign plays a big role in the narrative of the election. How the election is interpreted will affect the actions of the lame duck.
GREENE: So this fiscal cliff, I mean these are big decisions Congress has to make over taxes and over budgets. You're saying that those decisions may really be tied to the outcome of the election.
ROBERTS: Yes. Look, the reason this has been such a totally lackluster Congress - and they just left on Friday with the earliest pre-election adjournment since 1960, which was another close campaign - is because everybody hopes the election will make things clear, will give some sense of where the voters want to go. But if President Obama is re-elected and Republicans believe that it's because Romney ran a bad campaign, and they win the House back and either take the Senate or come close, then nothing is really shaken up. Whereas if they believe that either Obama or Romney won it because of their visions of where they want to take the country, then that could lead to action.
GREENE: We should say, though, I mean we're talking about the lame-duck period in between the election and inauguration. No matter who wins, you're still going to have the same president, the same Congress. So how would that make much of a difference in terms of legislation during that period?
ROBERTS: Because they really do hear what the voters have said in the election. In 1982, when unemployment was higher that it is now, the lame-duck Congress came back and passed a public works bill. And because more women had voted for the first time in history than men, they also added a public service component, because more women work in public service.
Then in 2010, when Republicans took the House with the big Tea Party contingent, the lame-duck session continued President Bush's tax cuts for everybody, not just the people making under $250,000 a year. They hear what the voters are saying. .
It also matters what the percentages are. If the president wins their districts by more than they do, they start to pay a lot of attention to the president. If the president squeaks by and they do just fine, then they feel like they don't have to pay that kind of attention. So what happens from here on till the election, and then on Election Day, will affect what this Congress, when it comes back, does. And as I say, what it has to do is very big indeed.
GREENE: Alright, of course, those debates are coming and we'll be talking to you while those are happening. Cokie Roberts, always good to be with you. She joined us this morning from NPR West. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.