Edging closer to the ‘fiscal cliff’: Obama, Boehner mum after talks

  • House Speaker John Boehner accuses President Barack Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Boehner is insisting that Obama wants far more in tax increases than spending reductions and appears willing to walk the economy "right up to the fiscal cliff."   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)House Speaker John Boehner accuses President Barack Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Boehner is insisting that Obama wants far more in tax increases than spending reductions and appears willing to walk the economy "right up to the fiscal cliff." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • President Barack Obama walks out of Blair House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, before crossing Pennsylvania Avenue and returning to the White House after attending a holiday party for the National Security Council. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Barack Obama walks out of Blair House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, before crossing Pennsylvania Avenue and returning to the White House after attending a holiday party for the National Security Council. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama, in Washington, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.  With time growing short and no "fiscal cliff" progress evident, President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner set face-to-face negotiations for late Thursday at the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama, in Washington, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. With time growing short and no "fiscal cliff" progress evident, President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner set face-to-face negotiations for late Thursday at the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
  • During a press conference to discuss the fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished legislation, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., reminds his Senate colleagues to help him to get federal disaster assistance to help the people of New York recover from Hurricane Sandy, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. From left to right are Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)During a press conference to discuss the fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished legislation, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., reminds his Senate colleagues to help him to get federal disaster assistance to help the people of New York recover from Hurricane Sandy, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. From left to right are Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, where he accused President Barack Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending. Boehner is insisting that Obama wants far more in tax increases than spending reductions and appears willing to walk the economy "right up to the fiscal cliff."   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, where he accused President Barack Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending. Boehner is insisting that Obama wants far more in tax increases than spending reductions and appears willing to walk the economy "right up to the fiscal cliff." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures as she meets with reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Pelosi questions why the fiscal cliff negotiations are going to the last minute.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures as she meets with reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Pelosi questions why the fiscal cliff negotiations are going to the last minute. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., second from left, accompanied by fellow Senate Democratic leaders, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, to discuss the stalled fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished business in the Senate. From left are, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Reid, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., second from left, accompanied by fellow Senate Democratic leaders, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, to discuss the stalled fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished business in the Senate. From left are, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Reid, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., listens at left as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., right, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, to discuss the stalled fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished business in the Senate.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., listens at left as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., right, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, to discuss the stalled fiscal cliff negotiations and other unfinished business in the Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • White House press secretary Jay Carney gestures as he speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)White House press secretary Jay Carney gestures as he speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
  • ** FILE ** Congressmen walk down the steps of the House of Representatives at the Capitol as rank and file members adjourned for several days, in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have advised members to be ready to work on the fiscal cliff negotiations during the Christmas holiday period. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)** FILE ** Congressmen walk down the steps of the House of Representatives at the Capitol as rank and file members adjourned for several days, in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have advised members to be ready to work on the fiscal cliff negotiations during the Christmas holiday period. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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As the city, the markets and the world weigh in on a possible “fiscal cliff” deal, it’s increasingly clear that only two opinions will count in the end.

Lawmakers have been reduced to bystanders as they wait to see whether President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner can produce a deal. The two men met again Thursday evening for their second face-to-face negotiation in five days.

Aides emerged after the 50-minute meeting to announce that no details would be released beyond saying the meeting was “frank” and that “lines of communication remain open.”

“We are pretty much completely in the dark,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, adding that he fears having a grand bargain worked out behind closed doors then dropped onto Congress in a take-it-or-leave-it vote.

But others shrugged at the situation, saying this is the way it has to be.

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President Obama leaves Blair House in Washington after attending a party for ... more >

“I think it is understandable that the speaker is the lead on this,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said he doesn’t expect the president to have to negotiate with all 435 members of the House.

“If he is going to have one, I would just as soon that he would have a discussion with me, but we know that is not going to happen. So [Mr. Boehner] is our leader, we support him,” Mr. Chaffetz said.

Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, said the cryptic discussions are “a practical reality.”

“If you are having delicate negotiations as the president and the speaker are, if every word and whisper is leaked out, it just creates a firestorm and retards rather than facilitates progress,” Mr. Welch said. “So, it is just the way it has got to be.”

There are currently 533 sworn members of Congress, but aside from Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama and their top lieutenants, few even know what is really on the table in the conversations.

The Rev. Pat Conroy, the House chaplain, seemed to underscore the stakes riding on those few when he opened Thursday’s session with a prayer saying that upon their shoulders rested “the most important negotiations of our time.”

Mr. Boehner has relented on key conservative principles, agreeing to raise revenue by at least $800 billion — but hasn’t laid out specifics other than to say it should come from ending loopholes and deductions, not from raising marginal income-tax rates on the wealthy or anyone else.

Mr. Obama insists that rates go up, and the White House says negotiations can’t proceed until Republicans agree.

The two are no strangers to trying to negotiate grand bargains.

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