Fiscal cliff talks turn into a game of chicken

With time running out on negotiations over ways to avert the fiscal cliff, Democrats and Republicans are engaging in a game of political chicken.

By The Fiscal Times Nov 30, 2012 5:40PM
By Eric PianinThe Fiscal Times logo

The critical negotiations over a way to avoid the fiscal cliff are fast turning into a game of chicken.

Shedding his optimistic disposition, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, summoned reporters Thursday afternoon to declare it was time that President Obama and the Democrats revealed how they intended to cut spending and slow the rate of growth of Medicare and other costly entitlements as part of a Grand Bargain of deficit reduction. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m disappointed in where we are and what has happened in the last couple of weeks,” Boehner said.

Far from seeking common ground to avert a year end calamity of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could trigger another recession, the Democrats and Republicans appear to be trying to escort each other over the fiscal cliff. Senior administration officials had a testy meeting yesterday with Boehner and other Republicans that further soured the negotiations, and Obama is hitting the road today for Philadelphia to try to rally voters to his side in the negotiations.

While both sides fear being blamed if a deal isn’t reached before the end of the year, a new poll from CNN/ORC shows that 45 percent of the public would blame congressional Republicans – even though the Democrats control the Senate – while just 34 percent would blame the president.

“Look, the White House clearly realizes that the longer they wait, the more pressure there’s going to be on the Republicans,” said Stan Collender, a budget analyst and expert. “So they’re not rushing to get anything done. And the White House learned from the negotiations over the debt ceiling in August 2011 not to negotiate with itself. So this is a definite change in tactics that seems to be frustrating Republicans to no end.”

There is general agreement that the government should commit to about $4 trillion in savings over the coming decade, which would be achieved through a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and reforms of the federal tax code and entitlement programs. But there is almost no unanimity on how to get there.

Obama’s road map would include $1.6 trillion of new tax revenue and roughly $350 billion to $400 billion of additional savings from Medicare and other health insurance programs. The rest of the savings  would largely be achieved by taking credit for the $2.1 trillion of long term savings agreed to in August 2011 as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion to its current $16.4 trillion level, according to Van Hollen. “The president’s plan has that combination of revenue and cuts,” he said. “Speaker Boehner keeps talking about revenues. We’ve never seen a proposal on revenues. Have you?”

Republicans have signaled that they might go along with $800 billion of additional revenue – the amount that Boehner and Obama discussed as part of their secret debt ceiling talks in 2011 – while insisting that the Democrats commit to far greater spending cuts.

The differences flared up yesterday after administration officials conferred behind closed doors with Boehner and Democratic congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House congressional liaison Rob Nabors signaled to the Republicans that the president still intended to seek $1.6 trillion in new taxes over the coming decade, starting with an immediate increase in the rates for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, The Washington Post reported.

While the Republicans have indicated they might go along with half that amount of new revenue, they refuse to raise the top rates. Instead, they insist they could generate the revenue by capping the amount taxpayers can claim in deductions and overhauling and simplifying the tax code to make it more efficient, an assertion the Democrats don’t buy.

Moreover, the administration demanded that Congress relinquish control over federal debt levels and approve at least $50 billion in new spending to boost the economy next year as part of an agreement to avert the year-end fiscal cliff, according to the Post.

In return, the president offered to find $400 billion over 10-years in savings from federal health and retirement programs.  But those savings would be wiped out, the Republican aides said, by Obama’s proposal to extend a slew of expensive policies, including emergency unemployment benefits and a temporary payroll tax holiday that is now set to expire at the end of the year.

Republicans apparently viewed the offer as a slap in the face, and Boehner at his news conference sharply criticized Democrats for not outlining possible expenditure cuts. Republican leaders stipulated these reductions as part of a “grand bargain,” including additional tax revenues to shrink the deficit over the long term.

With only a few more weeks before the lame duck Congress runs out of time, some lawmakers said yesterday they were dismayed the negotiations aren’t further along. Sen. Jeff B. Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said, “I can’t imagine the president of the United States at this late date isn’t willing to say what he thinks and what his vision for America is. He has not discussed the $16 trillion debt. He will not tell the American people they’re on an unsustainable path.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said, “We’re going to have to get together. There isn’t a lot of time left. It’s negotiating time, it’s good faith time, it’s getting this done time, that’s number one. Because that’s what the American people want, the markets want some predictability and certainty. This is a no brainer. People have got to get together.”

Eric Pianin is the Washington Editor at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times' FREE newsletter.

More from The Fiscal Times:

Dec 1, 2012 12:16PM

lets go over.  " last one to the bottom is a rotten egg !"

Dec 1, 2012 11:46AM

The very sad thing is lack of innovation and failure to realize what is important.


Getting people employed and keep them employed is the most critical parameter. If millions of people lose work habits, it's impact will last for long time with ensuing secondary problems of unoccupied population.


One suggestion I will like to make is chainging unemployment to workfare. Federal Government can guarantee job at let us say 20,000 dollars a year to keep unemployment at around 4-5 %. If this employment is mandated in private sector, where employer pays only statutory taxes and Fed pays the salary, can garner bipartisan support. Let us remember half of the work force makes less than this. Major unemployment is in this group who are less educated and lesser skilled.


There are practical solution available for Doctor's liability insurance that can help health care cost.


We need to discuss population distribution. Currently list trained and poor account for larger population growth by birth and those who are financially and by education capable have reduced making babies. If this is not solved we will continue to have skilled labor problem while unskilled labor will be in oversupply creating drag on wealth of the country and thus standard of living.


And there are many more issues like these

Dec 1, 2012 11:23AM

Buckle up and batten down the hatches, it's going to be a bumpy  ride. Especially now since both sides refuse to give. I guess that elections don't matter or do they. The repubs with their staunch defense of the ubber-rich sailing the USS. Richie-Rich. And then you have the dems sailing on the USS. Middle-Class, trying to keep all of their entitlements intact. This kind of reminds me of the Monitor vs. the Merrimack during the civil war. There wasn't a winner declared and both ships sailed of into infamacy. Except that this time there's this 800lb gorilla in the room called Mister Sequester. And a tie just won't do....

So buckle up and enjoy the ride... See you in the next election where this drama will end. 

Dec 1, 2012 10:33AM
It's time everyone realized that both parties are the problem. Until we decide to send a real message to our politicians and not reelect any of them nothing will change. The role of public servants is to serve the public not their parties or the special interests that paid for their election. We can and need to impose our own term limits. All it would take is a couple of election cycles where no one was
reelected and the cycle of abuse would be broken. 
Dec 1, 2012 10:12AM
It's not a game of chicken, it's a game of political posturing, and the Dems are running circles around the Repubs.  Nobody in Washington is truly interested in doing what's best for the people, they are only interested in acquiring and maintaining power.  So you have a bunch of inept Repubs who are clearly incompetent at playing politics as evidenced by the fact that every time they turn around, they get their a$$es handed to them by the Dems, to the point that they look like a middle school basketball team taking on the Lakers.

And on the other side, truth be told, the Dems WANT us to go off the fiscal cliff, because they get most of what they want, namely higher taxes on EVERYBODY and defense cuts.  At the same time, with the cooperation of MSM, they'll be able to pretend they didn't want to go off the cliff, and lay the blame for all of it firmly at the feet of the House Repubs.  Howard Dean said it himself on MSNBC on Thurs night...

"I make the argument that going off the -- as you call it the curb, I call it the slope, the press calls it the cliff, is actually the best deal progressive Democrats are going to get. And here's why. One, we get the Clinton tax rates on everybody. Will it cause a problem? Yes. There will be a short recession, and it will be painful. But two, we get defense cuts. Republicans are never going to agree to that. And three, there are some human services cuts, which we're not going to like. But it's the least possible damage."

"So, I think the fiscal curb, as you call it, is the best deal that progressive Democrats are going to get. And I think it's the best deal in the long run, not the short run."

Dec 1, 2012 10:05AM
Government Pensions are what needs to be addressed,local through federal.They should work to the same retirement age as the rest of us unless they have the means to retire earlier.This would save TRILLIONS!
Dec 1, 2012 9:51AM
In November of 2011 the government said we could pay soc.sec. benifits in full till 2033.Just one year later the estimate is 2030 and we continue the 2% payroll tax cut(Obama's) at the expense of soc. sec.? How's that for taking care of the middle class and poor.
Dec 1, 2012 9:33AM

just how more sick and tired can one get with these politians Isay fire thewhole damn lot of them and use Implement the w Warren Buffit plan he sayhe can fix the defict situation in 5 minutes and it would put these five year olds into action or walk what are the idiots thinking i am sick and tired ...tired and sick of them all


Dec 1, 2012 9:31AM
This is the way I read the fiscal cliff-If it;s not a big deal go the Democrat way-if it is we need to do it the Republican way.
Dec 1, 2012 9:27AM
North Korea vows December test of long-range rocket

"North Korea says it has improved its rocket, which previously broke up after liftoff in a launch in April."

So they expect this one to last more than 20 seconds???

Now that right there, is FUNNY!!!!

Dec 1, 2012 9:17AM
This President wants desperately to be a Dictator.
This Congress is only slightly less arrogant.

Not a promising combination...........
Dec 1, 2012 9:08AM

We would already be Greece if not for the dollar being the Worlds reserve currency.

Dec 1, 2012 8:46AM
I like how all the pundits refer to the fiscal cliff causing a new recession ! The old one never left !! Let the deadline come and go , nothing will change except Wall Street ! Do we really care ?
Dec 1, 2012 8:25AM

This is what you get when you put some guy that never had a real job in the real world that's nothing but a smooth talker first 4 yr's of bull and a bunch of fools to back him up now another 4 yr's of giving away the country to blood suckers, IF IT WAS ME I WOULD CUT EVERY THING, BIG BIRD WOULD HAVE TO WORK FOR SEED NOT 375,OOO A YR

Dec 1, 2012 3:11AM
The cliff is what Obama wanted all along. Big tax increase he can blame on repulicans. He is going on vacation in Maui from the 17th of Dec. to Jan. 6th and let his media machine atack the repulicans. while he does nothing but golf and check out paradise.
Dec 1, 2012 2:59AM

Dr.Kildearheart, excellent articles, until America realizes that the Republican is the dumbest animal on the planet, nothing will get fixed.

Republicans cut taxes on the poorest American's by one third, and then they scream " why aren't the poor paying taxes"

Republicans cut Federal revenues from 20% of GDP to 14% of GDP and they scream " taxes are to high"

Republicans increased spending 7.7% each year from 2001 to 2009 and then they scream " we have a spending problem "

Republicans from 2001 to 2009 added new agencies TSA, Homeland Security, added new entitlements Medicare D, added TARP and added trillions in new military growth, and then they scream " Government is to Big "

There's only one way to stop the over spending, stop big government growth and bring down the debt, it's so simple, a Cave Man could do it, stop voting Republicans into office !

Dec 1, 2012 2:00AM

He's back, but he's BLACK, it's Jimmy Carter's 2nd Term!  Time for those rich who pay nearly all the taxes now to pay EVEN more, and HINT, HINT, don't take your accountant's adive and move outta' town, outta' state, off-shore to keep what you've slaved 14/6 to achieve, other countries are awaiting and you can import your goods as all the others do, by mail!  HAHA, let the j*ckass liberals wait until THEIR kids can't afford tuition, loans, etc,. and then can't get jobs (sorry, been there, done that!).  Think about my angle, I can skin a good squirrel for spaghetti, pick the "right" mushrooms for spaghetti, and have back up recipes for "BBQ LOOTER".  What do you have to bring to the table, other than a total lack of world history regarding socialism vs. individual liberty???

Dec 1, 2012 1:46AM
Elections have consequences. Earth to Republicans.
Dec 1, 2012 12:32AM

Look, government can cut spending but then raise the debt ceiling to borrow more money....where is the logic behind this?  Even if they balanced the budget, there is still a matter of 16 trillion dollars of national debt that has to be paid back with interest.  Our government will always spend more than it earns in tax revenue because it can't control the massive spending that is out of control.

Nov 30, 2012 11:43PM

That giant sucking sound is the wealth of the middle class being redistributed by Barry Obama to the third world - repayment for all of the harm that America has done to the rest of the world and all of that other white liberal guilt crap.


My wealth and income are protected - feeling badly for the lemmings downhill who voted to let him "share their wealth" while "paying their fair share."


....mmm, mmm, mmm.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.




Quotes delayed at least 15 min
Sponsored by:


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
Market index data delayed by 15 minutes

[BRIEFING.COM] The major averages posted solid gains ahead of tomorrow's policy directive from the Federal Open Market Committee. The S&P 500 rallied 0.8%, while the Russell 2000 (+0.3%) could not keep pace with the benchmark index.

Equity indices hovered near their flat lines during the first two hours of action, but surged in reaction to reports from the Wall Street Journal concerning tomorrow's FOMC statement. Specifically, Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath indicated that the statement ... More


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.