Washington's Fiscal Cliff Dance

If you thought this week would be filled with closed door negotiating sessions involving leaders in Congress and President Obama over the fiscal cliff, that's not the recipe for success being utilized in Washington, D.C.

Instead, both parties are jacking up their public relations efforts, and trying their best to maneuver their opponents into a political corner.

On and off the Senate floor again on Tuesday, both sides took pot shots at each other; the two Senate leaders once more exchanged bitter lines over both the fiscal cliff and efforts by Democrats to limit the filibuster.

Meanwhile, there were no hints in the hallways of Capitol Hill that any headway was being made behind the scenes on a fiscal cliff tax and budget deal.

At the White House Press Briefing on Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked spokesman Jay Carney if there would be a meeting scheduled this week between the President and Congressional leaders - Carney sidestepped the answer as he outlined an active next three days for Mr. Obama.

Here is one portion of that briefing:

Q Last question, this is on the fiscal cliff.  You have the President hopping on Air Force One this week and going outside the Philadelphia area to rally public support for his position on the fiscal cliff.  We have Speaker Boehner announcing today that in the coming days and weeks Republican members will hold events and visit local small businesses.   You were in a position just now when Dan asked about this to provide no details about any upcoming meetings with the leadership.   If we look back to November 16 when the leaders were here, Minority Leader Pelosi spoke about projecting confidence to consumers and the markets in the short term by having on the President’s desk a blueprint for action by the week after Thanksgiving and potentially something for him to sign by Christmas.   None of that appears to be in the cards, and as we see the President now getting on his airplane and the members drumming up going over the -- it seems like they’ve abandoned each other, and what I’m saying is it seems like these talks have effectively broken down. Am I wrong about that?

MR. CARNEY: I think you’re wrong. Again, the President spoke with Speaker of the House Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid over the weekend. Our team is continuing discussions with their congressional counterparts on this matter and it is entirely appropriate, I would say, both for the President and for leaders in Congress, to have this discussion not just among themselves, but with the American people. And that’s what the President is doing. That’s why he’s meeting with business leaders -- I assume you wouldn’t -- or critics would not suggest that as a mistake -- or meeting with civic leaders or labor leaders, because everyone the President is meeting with has both I think useful ideas and a substantial stake in the outcome of these negotiations because it is vitally important that we take action to ensure that, for example, middle-class Americans don't see their taxes go up by an average of $2,200 next year.

There’s no reason for that to happen because as you know Democrats and Republicans alike believe those tax rates should not go up. So let’s act on what we agree on. Let’s demonstrate to the American people that Washington can function; that when everyone agrees on something, we can actually act on it; and then continue to debate whether or not it is the right policy to extend low tax rates for those making more than $250,000 and millionaires and billionaires who make substantially more than that.

Q So why not stay in town and just hammer it out and get a deal done? Why is everyone jumping on their airplane for photo ops outside the Beltway?

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that I find disparaging when you suggest that talking to the American people about their --

Q Didn't they speak in this election? Didn't we hear from them? Didn't they --

MR. CARNEY: The conversation continues, James. I mean I think it’s very important to continue that conversation with the American people both for the President and for members of Congress, and it’s important to continue that conversation with business leaders and with small business leaders and with civic leaders and labor leaders because everybody has a stake in this; and with ordinary middle-class Americans, with whom the President will be meeting tomorrow.

So it certainly doesn't prevent and won’t prevent work continuing to be done on the various ideas that people have about how to bring about the policy that we need to ensure that we don't go off the fiscal cliff, and more broadly that we deal with our fiscal challenges.

Q But, Jay, isn’t everybody just killing time --


Q -- until the deadline comes? I mean it just seems like everybody is just --

MR. CARNEY: It doesn't feel like killing time to me, Chuck.

Q Everybody is just killing time until the final week -- and the jet fumes from National Airport. (Laughter.) People get out of school, and the holidays come, and then everybody will actually sit down and hammer this out.

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, here’s a fact, the President has on the table a proposal that reduces the deficit by $4 trillion; that does it -- does so in balanced way; that includes substantial cuts to discretionary nondefense spending -- over $1 trillion; that includes revenue and includes $340 billion in savings from our health care entitlement programs. That is substance. So he has not waited for people to start smelling the jet fumes at National Airport. He has actively put forward a plan that --

Q Is Geithner at Boehner’s office today?

MR. CARNEY: I don't know of Secretary Geithner’s precise whereabouts, but I can -- at this moment. He was here earlier this morning. I can tell you that members of the President’s team are continuing to work on this issue as are members of Congress’s team and the congressional leaders’ team. So it does not I think make a lot of sense to simply say, never mind, the American people and business leaders and small business leaders and civic leaders and labor -- cut them out of the process and stop the conversation with them. The President thinks that's a big mistake.


Q Wouldn’t it send a signal to the American people and to markets that -- to see the President meeting here with congressional leadership? That would be a signal that Washington can function.

MR. CARNEY: The signal that Washington can function is the result. Only inside the Beltway do people think that sitting in a room for a photo spray will solve, necessarily, problems. The work has to be done, and that work is being done. And everybody needs, as the President said, to agree to the principle that compromise will require tough choices by each side. And the President is willing to do that and has demonstrated his willingness to do that.

I would remind you that when it comes to entitlement reform savings that Republicans spent two election cycles, hundreds of millions of dollars beating the stuffing out of Democrats and the President for the $716 billion in savings that was achieved out of health care entitlements through the Affordable Care Act; savings which contribute to the fact, as the Congressional Budget Office, has made clear and independent economists have made clear that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit in the first decade and reduces it by more than $1 trillion in the second decade. So beyond the President has put forward in his budget an additional $340 billion in savings from health care programs.

So let’s then back up and say who is serious? Who has been -- who has demonstrated his willingness to make tough choices and suffer the consequences politically of doing so because they're the right things to do for the economy?

Q So you think if there had been progress since that November 16th meeting, there wouldn’t be a meeting -- another meeting this week, the following --

MR. CARNEY: I haven’t said there won’t be a meeting this week. I said I don't have a scheduling update for you.

Q So there is still the possibility of a meeting this week with the President and the congressional --

MR. CARNEY: I think -- I just don't have a scheduling update for you.


If you thought this week would be filled with closed door negotiating sessions involving leaders in Congress and President Obama over the fiscal cliff, that's not the recipe for success being utilized in Washington, D.C. Instead, both parties are jacking up their public relations efforts, and trying their best to ...

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