Only 12 days remain for Congress to act to avert a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to hit the economy at the start of 2013. In recent days, the pace of negotiations has picked up and entered a new phase of high political drama with fast-moving changes. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner tried to sell his conference on a "Plan B"--a simple vote to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire on everyone but millionaires--in order to gain leverage during his ongoing negotiations with President Obama, which he will still pursue. Even as lawmakers rushed to draft language and put it online by midnight, it remained uncertain whether the rank and file could be persuaded to agree to the first de facto tax hike in years without any immediate spending cuts or tax and entitlement reform. The plan has been rejected by the White House and appears dead on arrival in the Senate.
A vote on the measure is scheduled for Thursday. But many senators are heading out of town at the end of the week to attend a funeral for Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died on Monday, and there seems little chance the fiscal cliff will be resolved before Christmas. Lawmakers will certainly have to return before New Year's Eve to prevent the tax hikes and automatic spending cuts from taking effect, which economists warn could throw the economy into another recession.
National Journal has tracked the meetings, phone calls, offers, and counteroffers that have taken place since Nov. 6, when Obama was reelected to a second term and all eyes in Washington turned to the cliff.
Nov. 7: Obama wins reelection to a second term and Democrats retain their Senate majority, meaning Republicans come to the negotiating table over the fiscal cliff with a weaker hand than they had during the debt-ceiling fights of 2011. Around 1 p.m. the day after the election, Speaker Boehner’s office circulates language to an expanded Republican leadership team that includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, so they could sign off on the language. Boehner gives his first postelection press conference, where he says, “Because the American people expect us to find common ground, we are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform.” It was a major concession for the Republicans and the first step they took toward meeting Obama halfway to avert the fiscal cliff.
Nov. 16: Obama meets with congressional leaders--including Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell--at the White House for a bipartisan meeting and show of unity. Boehner suggests the contours of a deal should include a down payment on the deficit as well as a framework for entitlement and tax reform next year. Both sides pledge to consider concessions on their most important issues in order to reach a deal.
Nov. 19–21: Before the Thanksgiving holiday, staffers from the White House and the House GOP leadership begin meeting to discuss broad principles, but no specific numbers, in advance of any meetings between their bosses. The participants reflect the fact that the most relevant players in this battle will be Obama and Boehner.
Nov. 24: Obama and Boehner have their first one-on-one phone call.
Nov. 27: Members of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan coalition of business leaders and policymakers, meet with senior advisers at the White House to push for a comprehensive grand bargain to avert the fiscal cliff. The same day, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a top-ranking Senate Democrat, says during a speech at the liberal Center for American Progress that entitlement reform should be separate from fiscal-cliff discussions.
Nov. 28: Obama meets with middle-class Americans and business leaders at the White House--the former group to help him push for the elimination of the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, and the latter to repair a tense relationship and enlist support in the fiscal-cliff negotiations. Later that day, he has a phone call with Boehner. On the Hill, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and other members of the Campaign to Fix the Debt meet with top Republican leaders. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington urges Republicans to join with Democrats and pass middle-class tax cuts ahead of budget or entitlement reforms, since several members of the GOP have begun suggesting that they are open to letting tax rates rise.