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The adage in Washington is that if nobody is talking about what they’re really talking about, that’s a good sign for getting a deal.
In what may be just such a positive sign, President Barack Obama, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and their aides on Thursday seemed to be zipping their lips on the behind-the-scenes fiscal cliff talks after a private Wednesday phone call between the two men. Of course, both sides also continued their public relations fight over debt and taxes.
“Lines of communication are open,” one House GOP leadership aide said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney likewise declined to give details on the call or the ongoing discussions, beyond saying that the administration still believes that there is time to reach a fiscal cliff deal — provided Republicans agree that higher tax rates on the wealthy have to be part of it.
That’s something that in recent days more Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have suddenly become more flexible on as they face the potential of rates going up on everyone come Jan. 1 . Boehner, however, has kept to his bottom line of preventing a rate increase in favor of trimming deductions.
Before the call, Republicans had become increasingly vocal in their complaints that the White House simply wasn’t engaging in talks at all. Instead, they felt the president was waiting for the political heat to ramp up on the GOP — something that Democrats privately acknowledged to be the case.
With polls backing the president over the GOP on the cliff, Democrats don’t think Republicans can sustain opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy. “Send us a memo on how you want to cave,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide suggested.
That being said, the White House and top Democrats continued to suggest Thursday their own flexibility on both tax rates as well as entitlement reforms. Carney reiterated to reporters Thursday that Obama was willing to go beyond the $600 billion in entitlement savings that he has already proposed in order to get a deal. The day before, Obama predicted the cuts part of the package could be reached in a mere week after the tax issue is dealt with.
The bottom line for the White House and Democrats is revenue, not rates — not the $800 billion figure offered by Republicans, but something closer to the $1.6 trillion sought by Obama.
It’s worth noting that the White House had sought a $1.2 trillion revenue increase at one point in 2011 — exactly halfway between the two offers now on the table.