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Customers ‘Scared to Death’ of Going Off 'Cliff': Caterpillar CEO

Thursday, 6 Dec 2012 | 8:50 AM ET
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman says his customers are "scared to death" about going over the "Fiscal Cliff" and the damage it could do to the U.S. economy.

"I talk every day to our customers around this country, and they're all scared to death what happens in January," Oberhelman told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday. "All I know is, going over the cliff is too hot to handle."

Oberhelman recently met with President Obama and Republican leaders and described those sessions as productive.

"All I can tell you is that nobody over there wants to go over the cliff at this time," he said. "There's nobody that wants to do it."

Fiscal Fight: CAT CEO Goes to the Mat
"Nobody wants to go over the "cliff" at this time," said Doug Oberhelman, Chairman & CEO of Caterpillar, discussing his support of the "Fix the Debt" campaign, and why credible reform must be big and bipartisan.

Even so, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told CNBC on Wednesday that the White House is "absolutely" ready to go over the cliff if Republicans won't agree to raise taxes for wealthier Americans. (Read More: We'll Fall Off Cliff If Rates Don't Rise: Geithner.)

Under the Fiscal Cliff, over $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases will go into effect next year if Congress doesn't reach a deal on ways to rein in the federal deficit. Many economists says the impact of the cliff would push the U.S. back into a recession.

"I don't think we should risk it at all," Oberhelman said in the CNBC interview. "But I think if we do go over the cliff, the downside is a lot more prevalent to where we are today— and lots of things will happen."

Oberhelman said Caterpillar is bracing for such an event.

"We're already looking at [capital expenditures] for next year," he said. "What could we, and should we, do if things really start to slow down."

Still, he added: "I don't want to have to face and decide that."

Follow Matthew J. Belvedere on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC

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