WASHINGTON — Negotiations between President Barack Obama and Republicans to save the economy from a plunge over the fiscal cliff are still in the throat-clearing stage. Serious bargaining is on hold while the two sides vie for political leverage.
Nothing is likely to become clear until far closer to the year-end deadline, when the lure of getting away for the holidays will sharpen the focus of negotiators.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke about the stalemate Friday as Obama all but called Republicans heartless louts from a Charles Dickens story. Their failure to pass an extension of middle-class tax cuts would amount to a Christmas "lump of coal" for millions, Obama said in Hatfield, Pa. "That's a Scrooge Christmas," added the recently-re-elected president.
In the talks to date, Democrats have declined to identify a single spending cut they are willing to support, while Republicans avoid specifics on revenue increases they would swallow.
Once each side moves beyond opening gambits, Republicans will have to decide whether they are willing to raise income tax rates on upper incomes.
Democrats will decide how much savings to pull from benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and possibly Social Security without cutting guaranteed benefits.