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Quiet Talks Continue on Fiscal Cliff

White House, GOP wait on each other to provide specifics as growing number of rank-and-file Republicans thaw on tax rates

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Boehner met with the president over the weekend to continue discussions on the fiscal cliff. Details of the ongoing negotiations are fuzzy but the key players are talking.

President Barack Obama took the fiscal cliff from the tight circle of negotiators at the White House to a sprawling auto factory floor on Monday, as he continued the two-pronged public-private approach he has been using to push his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

While aboard Air Force One en route to Michigan, Obama called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to update him on the talks, which included an in-person session Sunday at the White House with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

Though the details of the ongoing negotiations are fuzzy, the key players are talking, which is more than could be said a week ago.

However, the primary differences between the two sides remain. Boehner’s office said the speaker is waiting for the White House to come back to Republicans with more spending cuts. And the White House says the president is waiting for the GOP to give more on revenue. Two years of fighting over how to rein in the federal debt is now coming down to two weeks of deal-making at best and he-said/she-said at worst.

“The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer, and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he’s willing to make as part of the ‘balanced’ approach he promised the American people,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, who confirmed conversations with the White House “are taking place” but declined to specify the nature of those talks.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama has offered specifics on cuts — pointing to the president’s original deficit reduction plan that has repeatedly been dismissed by the GOP. Carney added that the Republicans are the ones stalling talks by not giving more detail on what they would be willing to do on revenue.

“What we haven’t seen yet is any specificity at all from Republicans on revenue; we’ve seen a sentence on revenue. And while there have been encouraging statements by individual lawmakers about the realization that rates will go up on the top 2 percent, we haven’t seen anything specific from Republicans with regard to that,” Carney said.

Indeed, the number of rank-and-file Republicans who seem to endorse ceding the tax rate battle in order to gain leverage in a larger fight on raising the debt ceiling and cutting entitlement spending is growing.

On Sunday, for example, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said congressional Republicans are starting to realize they don’t have leverage in the pre-Christmas debate.

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