Fiscal Cliff Deal Will Come Down to Obama

In fiscal cliff negotiations, President Obama must keep his promise to raise tax rates on those making $250,000 or more.

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To the world, it's the "fiscal cliff" that keeps Congress hanging around the halls of the Capitol until the last day of 2012. 

To me, it's the Senate "midnight caper." If the marble and bronze statues of statesmen could speak, they would agree with me. Actually, they did say they've never seen anything like this spectacle—the stakes so high, the time so short. Millions of Americans are watching with the caper with high anxiety, because their tax codes could change overnight. One of the watchers may be Barack Obama, for all we know.  But the president seems strangely absent from the scenes of this caper. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on the fiscal cliff.]

Sure, it's fun to watch as spectacle: a scrum of reporters straining to hear Senate Majority Leader's Harry Reid's soft-spoken words outside the Senate chamber. The second-in-line in among Senate Democrats, Dick Durbin, is a better sharer.  And Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, actually said something funny on the floor: "I need a dance partner." Let the record reflect this moment of levity 

Hell hasn't frozen over yet, but the Senate's grandfather clock, the Ohio Clock, is ticking toward midnight tonight, so it would be nice to get a deal done New Year's Eve. The suspense is killing us. 

But the caper and its players seemed a bit dazed and confused yesterday.  "They don't even know what they're doing," said one Capitol police officer stationed to keep a watch over by day and night.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

On the Senate side of the Capitol, there's a barely concealed scorn for the House speaker—not that people really speak much about John Boehner, the speaker who could not speak for his caucus. Earlier talks between House Republicans and the White House thus turned out to be totally useless and broke down. Nobody is happy about that twist and turn in the caper.  Boehner should stick to golf from now on—that's the one thing most agree on. 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican serving her last week, also made a wry remark on the floor. Compared to the House, she said, "We're supposed to be the adults in the room." 

So it really does come down to this august club of 100 of the nation's best and brightest. They will get something down to avoid public humiliation. The caper will be done on deadline.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Are Congress and Obama Trying Hard Enough to Avoid the Fiscal Cliff?]

However, this midnight hour back-and-forth, give-and-take is not about the waxing and waning chambers of Congress. In a way, all that's a distraction.  

The silent statues and I believe it is all about the man: Obama. He declared he would not sign a bill that did not bring down the top earner's income to $250,000—back to the Clinton tax rate. He said he would not do that "under any circumstances."  

It matters very much that the president keeps his promise to the American people. 

  • Read Mary Kate Cary: The Fiscal Cliff Shows the Outrageous Incompetence of Washington
  • Read Peter Fenn: Blame Republicans for the Fiscal Cliff and Washington Gridlock
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