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Bowles, Simpson Might Get Left Behind in Cliff Talks

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Bowles, left, and Simpson continue to promote their plan for financial reform on the Hill, and legislators are eager to meet with the standard-bearers of bipartisanship.

Congressional leaders opened their doors Wednesday to former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., who were touting the debt reduction plan that bears their names as Capitol Hill gets closer and closer to the fiscal cliff.

But their efforts will be immediately overshadowed Thursday as high-level Obama administration officials meet with the top four congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

The Bowles-Simpson plan, which calls for lowering tax rates while ending many tax deductions and overhauling entitlements, has been roundly panned by leaders on both sides since it was shot down nearly two years ago by the very fiscal commission that produced it.

But leaders hoping to be perceived as more open to a bipartisan deal — and, in effect, hoping to gain an eventual upper hand in negotiations — were eager to be seen meeting with one or both of the men.

“The plan symbolizes something greater than the specifics of the plan; the plan symbolizes compromise,” a GOP leadership aide said. “At some point I do think the speaker and president are going to get in a room, but a significant part of leverage on both sides comes from the public perception of the debate.”

The day when Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Barack Obama meet about the fiscal cliff might be nearing.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Rob Nabors will meet separately Thursday for private conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Congressional leaders have expressed pessimism in recent days about the progress of the fiscal cliff talks, with both McConnell and Reid saying negotiators remain at loggerheads.

The visits from the top White House figures could help smooth over recent bumps, including GOP frustration that the president is hitting the road Friday to barnstorm for a deal instead of coming to the table.

“We accepted this meeting with the expectation that the White House team will bring a specific plan for real spending cuts — because spending cuts that Washington Democrats will accept is what is missing from the ‘balanced approach’ that the president says he wants,” a Boehner spokesman said.

Reid said he was not aware whether Geithner would be bringing a debt plan on Thursday. “I don’t know what he’s going to do,” Reid said of Geithner.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, meantime, said he hoped Geithner would have a plan. “He’s been thinking about it a long time,” Durbin said. “I hope he brings something that will bring us together.”

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