Washington (CNN) – Talks to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff are expected to pick up this week as Congress returns to work.
But a promised second White House meeting on the crisis between President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders still has not been scheduled – a possible sign that staff discussions over the Thanksgiving recess did not yield the progress leaders hoped.
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“The talks in the last week haven’t been tremendously productive,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide who described the main sticking point as the refusal of Republicans “to get specific about what they would accept in terms of revenues.”
Obama met with congressional leaders on November 16. Afterward, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers voiced support for finding an agreement in a rare show of bipartisanship.
Staff talks were supposed to lead to a second White House meeting this week but only if they made enough progress on a draft proposal that would be reviewable by the chief negotiators.
The Democratic aide said negotiations are not at a point “where people are huddled in a conference room with spread sheets” but are instead at the early “dancing stage” of negotiations.
Most of the talks over the recess took place over the phone but a few occurred in one-on-one in-person meetings on Capitol Hill, according to multiple aides.
Despite the negative read-out from the Democratic aide, congressional Republican leadership aides declined to characterize the state of the talks which are being spearheaded by aides to Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, but also include other congressional leaders.
One GOP aide accused Democrats who are not central to the negotiations of leaking details of the talks in order to portray Republicans negatively. Another GOP aide noted that the talks are continuing, which itself can be read as progress.
The White House said on Monday the president reached out on Saturday to Boehner and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to touch base about their efforts to avert the crisis.
Fiscal cliff is a term used to describe the combination of mandated spending cuts and tax increases set to take place at the end year that economists warn could wipe out the fragile economic recovery.
Wall Street is concerned that negotiations will not resolve the matter, prompting key business leaders to lobby Washington for a deal.
Main sticking points revolve around tax increases, spending cuts, and overhauling major entitlement programs.
Democrats insist the top marginal tax rates return to the higher levels that existed before tax cuts that were enacted during the George W. Bush administration.
Almost all Republicans oppose a higher tax rate but several have said they would accept higher revenues if they came from eliminating deductions and other loopholes in the tax code and were coupled with entitlement reforms.
Republicans insist Democrats agree to cut discretionary spending and make significant reforms to Medicare and Social Security.
While some Democrats have said they are open to changes in the Medicare program, there is little appetite to make Social Security reform part of the fiscal cliff negotiations because Democrats argue the program is self-funded and doesn’t add to the deficit.
Meanwhile, distrust between the parties is making negotiations more difficult.
Democrats said they were concerned Republicans would want to lock in spending cuts now in return for promises of tax reforms next year that might never materialize.
And Republicans said they were concerned that Democrats want to lock in tax hikes now in return for spending cuts next year that might never happen.
On the Senate floor on Monday, Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell continued to dance.
“The question is what are we going to do about this?” asked McConnell. “How do we face up to fiscal irresponsibility and can-kicking that got us here and finally do what’s right for this country?”
Reid said: “I remain optimistic that when it comes to our economy – when it comes to protecting middle class families from a whopping tax hike January First – Republicans and Democrats will be able to find common ground.”
The fact remains that both sides must come together and cooperate to get things done. The buck stops with the President. A leader must rise to the cause and if nothing is accomplished, it's all on him. If the only way he can get anything done is to have complete control of both houses of congress, then he is useless. Other Presidents were able to do this. Whether this one can remains to be seen.
Face it people, the GOP is stalling. They have nothing to bargain with, so it is in the best interests to see if they can somehow change the polls so that the Dems take the blame for going over the fiscal cliff.
Not one Republican is serious when they say they'll consider "revenues" when they simultaneously rule out eliminating the Bush-Obama tax cuts.
I say we go over the cliff. At least $500 billion of the deficit will be cut, and it won't be all in cuts, and all of it won't be in January.
There needs to be something more done and figured out.
Sigh, nothing ever changes. The word "urgency" is not in their vocabulary. If the Republicans don't want to have their ranks further decimated in 2014, they may want to lay off the "entitlement" talk. How about this: why don't you all 1) take a pay cut, 2) start chipping in for your health insurance and other monetary benefits. I wonder how much could be saved? If you do that, THEN you can talk about fooling around with the "entitlements".
Hey! I know how to save quite a chunk of change. Why don't all of the Senators and Congressmen take a pay cut. We the People pay you a handsome salary. We also provide for you top-of-the-line health insurance. That would be a great start.
The Republicans will have to be pushed to the wall. If they continue with the same old bull they've tried to put over on the American people, we may go over the cliff, and we'll be saying goodbye to most of them in 2014.
Mitch McConnell and the Repubs will not compromise, and then blame any inaction on President Obama.
Repubs care nothing about our country, and only about the top 0.01% who do not want to pay their fair share in taxes. McConnell and his ilk are traitors in my book!
When will republicans grow up And become men? They Jjust lost an election on Tax cuts all round IN ADDITION TO LEAVING BUSH CUTS PERMANENTLY ON THE BOOKS.
A WHACKING GREAT SWIPE AT PPACA= repeal!!
Then more defense spending and Saber rattling war intent.
Time for Obama to say I want an agrrement but if it does not include:=
Tax rate increases on the Over $200/250K earners, attempts to undermine PPACA or increase defense spending I will veto such legislation.
I wish/ demand House Democrats and Senate to fix a spending/ Enttilement cut schedule = to the Sequestration $600bn before 31st March next year if not the rich tax increase is repealed and becomes permanent.
Mc Connel and Boehner will have no choice but to take us over the fiscal cliff and no way of saying not our fault.
Me being the cynic/ pragmatist that I am, I think all the above including spending cuts it works; and Republicans will realise that doing it NOW takes the really serious economic and debt issues of the desk for 2014 elections??
Madam Pellosi looks stunning!