The White House has indicated that it will use the bully pulpit to garner public support for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on people earning more than $250,000 a year, but the meat of the negotiating won't be done in public, says Roll Call, and leadership staff. It will be down to President Obama, House Speaker Boehner, and with any luck, Senate Majority Leader Reid.
Boehner and Democratic leaders know they have to get their respective rank-and-file members in line so they can find room to negotiate. So this week they will take the temperatures of their respective caucuses on taxes and entitlements, putting hard negotiations on hold until Friday, when they’re scheduled to meet at the White House. [...]Plenty of Democrats, tending to be more reality based, recognize that this is less of a cliff than a slope and that the world isn't going to come crashing down on Jan. 1 if an agreement isn't made by then. A willingness to just let it all expire takes a hostage away from Republicans, and takes away the manufactured crisis grand bargainers are trying to exploit to make deeper spending cuts. Senate Democrats are in the position to force that, and to resist the Medicare and Social Security cuts the White House had been willing to make in the last negotiating effort.
Still, differences between even the leaders and White House will be hard to bridge. Republican aides say the White House needs to come through with serious entitlement reforms as well as work within Boehner’s bottom line of letting the top tax rate rise beyond the Bush-era rate of 35 percent. “The more real you can make it, that you are making real and lasting reforms to entitlements, the easier it should be to sell,” the GOP aide said of Boehner’s conference.
Republicans are waiting to see whether rank-and-file Democrats might be willing to swallow items like an increasing the Medicare retirement age to 67—something that was on the table during debt limit talks a year ago—or slowing cost-of-living adjustments under Social Security, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has opposed.
Meanwhile, Democrats question whether Boehner can find the votes for any package before hitting the cliff Jan. 1, when pressure will ramp up on Congress as citizens’ taxes go up.
It makes sense for Senate Democrats to continue to resist any bad deal until next year, when Reid will have a stronger caucus and can fight Republican obstruction better with filibuster reform.