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'Fiscal cliff' talks turn sour: Are prospects for deal vanishing?

House Speaker John Boehner charges that 'no substantive progress has been made' to avoid the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff, but such comments are a part of negotiating, an expert says.

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Both Republican leaders put the onus on the president to outline the way forward.

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“The only reason we will go over the cliff is if the White House continues to fail to show the leadership necessary to get an agreement that reflects the compromise the American people expected when they elected a divided government,” McConnell said.

Princeton’s Professor Zelizer said the move by Boehner to pour cold water on the talks was “inevitable,” because of the need to show the GOP caucus – still bitterly opposed to new tax revenues – that he is fighting for the best possible deal.

“That’s how negotiations work: You don’t totally give in in at the beginning of the process,” Zelizer said. “There has to be a moment where you tell your adversary, ‘No.’ ... He logically wants to see how much he can get."

The Senate Democratic leadership, on the other hand, sounded buoyant about chances for a deal after meeting with Geithner.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York said he was “confident” the parties could reach a bipartisan agreement before Christmas – and that the deal would almost certainly have higher taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans are “not going to openly concede on this point this far out from the deadline,” said Senator Schumer. “But they see the handwriting on the wall.”

Democrats were gleeful at recent comments from about a dozen Republicans showing a willingness to increase government revenues in general or, as Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma put it, to simply go along with Democratic demands to extend the Bush tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans with household income below $250,000 and fight for the rest later.

“They’re roiling,” Schumer said of the GOP. “And that’s why we believe, on taxes, they’ll eventually come around to us.”

And what of specific plans for reducing obligations for Medicare and other entitlement programs? Both sides have, in the past, proposed specific savings. House Republicans passed a bill that would terminate the spending reductions known as the "sequester" and outlined changes to Medicare and Medicaid in their budget proposal last year.
 
Democrats, lead by Obama, have also offered proposals for cutting spending in the past. On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed to the president's proposals during the summer of 2011 to the "supercommittee" tasked with finding more government spending reductions, as well as the president's 2012 budget proposal, as evidence of specific plans to cut government expenditures.

“You cannot negotiate against yourself,” Schumer said, meaning that the GOP would have to put a new proposal in writing.

With just 11 legislative days before Christmas, both sides are waiting for the other to go first in proposing the spending reductions and entitlement reforms needed to avert the fiscal cliff.

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