Obama, Congress Begin Long Road Toward Fiscal Cliff Solution

Obama, congressional leaders optimistic despite differences on fiscal issues and election result.

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President Obama and congressional leaders expressed optimism Friday about finding a budget compromise but they have a long way to go to resolve their differences in time to avoid a fiscal debacle at year's end.

"I feel very good about what we were able to talk about in there," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said after the principals met in the White House. "We have the cornerstones of being able to work something out. We're both going to have to give up some of the things that we know are a problem."

House Speaker John Boehner added: "To show our seriousness, we put revenue on the table as long as it's accompanied by significant spending cuts."

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Also attending the meeting with Obama and his advisers were Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Despite superficial signs of compromise, Obama and congressional Republican leaders are still separated by a chasm on fiscal issues, says political scientist Bill Galston, a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton.

There are "two competing majorities" — one that backed Obama in the presidential election and the other that reaffirmed GOP control of the House — Galston said, adding that each side perceives that it has a mandate. "The two majorities are at loggerheads on the fundamentals," Galston told me.

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At stake is whether the government goes over a "fiscal cliff" on January 1. That's Washington-speak for a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that are scheduled to start taking effect automatically on January 1 if no compromise is reached on the budget,

Obama and his allies in the Democrat-controlled Senate want to raise taxes on the rich and maintain tax cuts for the middle class while minimizing spending cuts, while Republicans want to cut spending and hold the line on all tax increases.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com or on Facebook and Twitter.