The task before them and Congress is so fraught with fiendishly complicated and politically-charged issues that the idea that a couple of people behind closed doors can come up with a broadly acceptable solution is laughable.
In fact, I'm going to go out on a cliff on this one (no pun intended) and say that there will be no final disposition of these thorny issues, known as the "fiscal cliff", until next year. Wrapping up a grand, multi-trillion dollar compromise bill in four weeks or so wasn't in the cards to begin with, and the two most important people needed to do this sent out a number of signals that they were in no rush to meet this or any other deadline.
Since the president met with congressional leaders in a post-election love-fest, pledging they were ready to work together to avoid a fiscal leap into the abyss, Obama and Boehner haven't met in two weeks. And it is reported they haven't even talked on the phone for at least a week.
Even Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of the president's deficit-reduction commission that proposed a sweeping tax and spending reform plan to steer clear of the cliff now doubts anything will get done before the clock strikes 12 on New Year's Eve.
"It would be insane to breach this fiscal cliff, yet I think there is only a one-third possibility we'll actually get something done before December 31," Bowles confessed Tuesday at the Christian Science Monitor's newsmakers breakfast forum. "There has been no serious discussion yet about entitlement reform."
"Am I optimistic? No, but I am hopeful." he told reporters as he left a meeting in the Capitol with Boehner and other House Republican leaders this week.
The compromise Budget Act of 2011 requires Obama and Congress come up with a $1.2 trillion deficit-cutting plan for the next decade by year's end. If not, $100 billion or so will be automatically cut from defense and domestic (non-entitlement) programs on Jan. 1.
Quite frankly, if Congress can't find $100 billion in cuts in a waste-ridden, inefficient, over-staffed $3.5 trillion budget -- absent serious defense cuts -- they are not really trying.
But Obama is threatening to veto any deal that does not significantly raise tax rates on investors, small businesses and other sectors of our economy.
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