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A deal to avert the fiscal cliff at the end of the year will ultimately come down to talks between President Barack Obama, Speaker John A. Boehner and a handful of other top leaders — and this week may be one of the few times rank-and-file members are asked to weigh in.
Democratic and Republican leadership aides said there is at least some initial optimism that a deal can be reached, given that both Obama and Boehner, R-Ohio, offered olive branches last week in their initial post-election statements on the issue. But it now appears that agreement will have to emerge from just the kind of “Camp David” leadership retreat that Boehner last week said he wanted no part of.
Boehner and Democratic leaders know they have to get their respective rank-and-file members in line so they can find room to negotiate. So this week they will take the temperatures of their respective caucuses on taxes and entitlements, putting hard negotiations on hold until Friday, when they’re scheduled to meet at the White House.
Before they are asked to vote on any deal, members shouldn’t expect many chances to amend it in committee or on the House and Senate floors, despite its potential magnitude.
“This is going to be, as these things tend to be, a top-down kind of thing,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “It is not going to be an inclusive legislative process. It’s going to be, ‘This is the deal, yes or no.’”
To be sure, leaders of both parties need some level of permission from the rank and file to sit down and negotiate. That will take some delicate footwork with hardliners on each side.
“In a certain sense, both sides have to speak to their base but also use language that leaves open the possibility of common ground more in the middle,” a House GOP leadership aide said.
Congressional leaders also will have plenty of opportunities this week to posture in the press, and Obama plans to hold a press conference of his own Wednesday. Democratic aides expect the president to enlist the business community to help nudge Republicans toward a deal, given the cliff’s potential risks to the economy and financial markets.
At issue for both Congress and the White House is how to deal with the Bush-era tax cuts, $1.2 trillion in scheduled automatic cuts to defense and non-defense programs, and a need to raise the debt ceiling.
Obama, for his part, has signaled a willingness to bend a little in the GOP’s direction.