The political version of “Chicken” continues in Washington even as President Barack Obama and his chief protagonist, House Speaker John Boehner, met face-to-face on Sunday for the first time in weeks to discuss the upcoming “financial cliff” that threatens the nation’s economic well-being.
There was no evidence of any change in the negotiations impasse that has delayed any potential deal that might avert the series of drastic budget cuts and increased taxes that will automatically go into effect at the first of the year.
Sunday’s White House meeting between the two chief principals was a surprise of sorts, given that it had not been on the president’s official schedule and that the two sides had been sparring publicly, each accusing each other of failing to work sincerely toward a compromise.
Neither side provided much insight afterwards as to how the talks between the two men went, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest and Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck issuing identical statements.
“This afternoon, the president and Speaker Boehner met at the White House to discuss efforts to resolve the fiscal cliff,” the release said. “We’re not reading out details of the conversation, but the lines of communication remain open.”
It’s clear that’s there’s still work to be done before any talk of a of deal, but many feel there’s reason to be optimistic following Obama and Boehner’s first face-to-face contact in nearly a month.
Meanwhile, the pressure on both sides to quickly come to a mutually-agreed arrangement continues to build.
On Sunday, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde echoed numerous economic experts in predicting a sharp drop in confidence and “zero” U.S. economic growth if there’s no agreement.
But the two political camps’ matching words were remarkable, given their heated exchanges over the last few weeks.
Last Friday, for instance, Boehner accused the White House of having “wasted another week.”
“There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue that the president seeks on the table,” he said at the time, “but none of it’s going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on ‘my way or the highway.”
Obama has held his ground, especially on his insistence that tax rates return to 1990s’ levels for families with incomes higher than $250,000 while remaining the same for those making less than that.
After campaigning against any tax increases, many top Republicans have expressed willingness since the election to raise revenue by adjusting deductions and loopholes.
But Boehner and others have said any revenue hikes must be packaged with major spending cuts, including reforms to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. And they’ve resisted any tax rate hikes, including for the wealthiest Americans as part of any deal.
The GOP, however, is clearly losing the public relations battle in this fight, perhaps explaining why Republican lawmakers are sounding more willing by the day to concede to the president.
But, in the meantime, they’re holding out for a victory of sorts of their own to take with them.
“They want something to put on the wall, to say, ‘OK, we gave on taxes. They gave on [entitlements],’ ” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told the Washington Post. “I hope we don’t go that route, [but] we may end up facing it as the only way out of this.”