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Cliff Talks Send Parties Back to Old Corners

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Boehner’s meeting with White House officials on the fiscal cliff Thursday did not go well, and he later questioned the president’s willingness to reach a deal.

Talks over how to avert deep spending cuts and large tax increases took a bad turn Thursday, as both sides complained about a lack of trust and Republicans said the White House’s negotiating stance is jeopardizing any good will that may exist between the parties.

Republicans said they were uncertain how to move forward after receiving a proposal from White House emissaries that GOP aides likened to a rehashing of President Barack Obama’s budget proposal. And they appeared stunned that the White House would not only ask for another stimulus measure but also request an end to Congress’ role in raising the debt ceiling.

The disconnect between the parties was obvious, with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, saying “no substantive progress” had been made and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., saying at one point, “I don’t understand his brain,” referring to the speaker.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House chief congressional liaison Rob Nabors visited Capitol Hill to meet separately with the four top congressional leaders Thursday, but any progress the meetings might have produced was marred by mistrust.

Boehner was fuming that a Wednesday night phone call he had with the president leaked to the press, and he blamed the White House for breaking its pact to keep the call secret.

White House aides denied the leak came from the administration, but the damage was done.

Going forward, Boehner needs to know that discussions with the administration can remain private if need be, according to GOP leadership aides. Having too many details in the press could complicate his ability to sell any final deal to his unruly conference.

The leak, coupled with the fact that Obama is on a barnstorming tour to drum up public support for a tax hike on high-income earners, caused Boehner to publicly question the president’s seriousness about reaching a deal.

“Listen, this is not a game. Jobs are on the line, the American economy is on the line and this is the moment for adult leadership,” Boehner said.

A GOP leadership aide said Geithner’s appearance on the Hill amounted to little more than a “token gesture” from the administration, as House Republicans do not believe he will be the one negotiating the final deal.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed that feeling among Republicans, telling CQ Roll Call in an interview that, “I think it was a meeting just to show that there was a meeting.”

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