It's very likely that any deal to avert an across-the-board income tax hike and deep federal spending cuts will result in clear political winners and losers. That's because both President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the two lead negotiators, have both tried to remain unyielding on one point — whether or not the actual rates will increase on the top two percent of Americans as part of a larger deficit reduction package.
The two men met for face-to-face talks on Sunday, but both sides have declined to characterize how the discussion went.
"Our interest is in seeing if we can reach an agreement and not trying to negotiate an agreement through the media," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters flying with the president to Michigan for a speech on Monday.
"I'm entirely sympathetic to the interest that you have in this, but we believe that it's in the best interest of the prospects of getting an agreement to not read out the details of conversations that the president has with the speaker or other conversations that hopefully will make it possible to get an agreement," Carney said, according to a pool report.
A spokesman for Boehner on Friday said, "The lines of communication remain open."
But as the two sides march towards and end game, it's looking more and more likely that Boehner and Republicans will be the side having to compromise the most. Public polling shows not only do most Americans agree that tax increases for top earners should be part of any deficit reduction package, most will also primarily blame Republicans if negotiations go off-track.
"If they cut a deal in which the tax rates go up for the top earners, it's going to be a situation where the Republicans have acceded to the command of the president," says Danny Hayes, political science professor at George Washington University. "[Obama] is on the right side of public opinion on this issue and the Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue."
Hayes adds that the GOP can save face by touting any concessions they get from Democrats on spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
"The question then becomes what else? What else can they get in the exchange to point to as progress for their side and adhering to the positions that they've staked out on entitlements or spending or whatever," he says.
Obama, who in recent weeks has taken to Twitter, hosted a roundtable of middle-class taxpayers at the White House, and visited a Virginia family that would see their taxes increase if the country goes 'over the cliff,' continued to press his case for increased taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year with the public on Monday, delivering a speech at Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, Mich.
"I want us to bring down our deficits, but I want to do it in a balanced, responsible way and I want a tax code that rewards businesses and manufacturers like Detroit Diesel, right here, creating jobs right," he said, adding that the plant was making a $100 million investment and would be creating 150 new local jobs.
Though Obama has touted his re-election as evidence he has a mandate to raise taxes on the top 2 percent, he hasn't taken his foot off campaigning for public support, which is perhaps his best leverage to get Republicans to deal on his terms.
"They're kind of stuck between the masses and the activists," says Hayes, who characterizes Obama's claim of an electoral mandate as "dubious."
"There's not much evidence that people vote based on policy issues like that," he says. "Presidents are smart about this — when they win re-election they claim that they have a mandate on whatever the most pressing public policy concern they want to address is."
Hayes says while a majority of Americans do support the president's tax position, that's not necessarily why he won the election.
"It's easier to view the election as a reaction to the fact that the economy was growing and that the president was rewarded for that than the fact that he talked about raising rates on upper-income earners," he says.