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Bleak Outlook for Fiscal Cliff Negotiations: 9 Expert Takes


As talks have all but broken down between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner, political analysts are less than optimistic about the days ahead.

Norman Ornstein -- The political expert at the conservative -leaning American Enterprise Institute thinks that Boehner's speakership will survive his latest humiliation at the hands of House conservatives.

"But Boehner has to be a little nervous now about a January 3 vote [on the speakership], and how it might be shaped by what happens between now and January 3. He may be inclined more now than before to wait until after January 1, take a hit [by allowing tax rates to rise on everyone], but then have the vote be on a tax cut, not a tax increase. At the same time, it is possible that Boehner and Obama come together in a week and bridge the $200 billion gap between them on spending. But the bottom line here is the same: whether we get a deal before January 1 or after, Boehner will have to bring up a bill that will require more Democrats than Republicans to pass it. Will he?"

Ethan Pollack -- The senior policy analyst at the liberal Economic Policy Institute says that the collapse of Plan B starkly illustrated that the House GOP is unwilling to vote for any measure that raises taxes on the wealthy, but there is more to the problem.

"A secondary lesson of last Thursday night is what Boehner didn't do; after all, he knew that his bill was in trouble and in response he loaded it up with conservative goodies, but did not include any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. What this suggests is that while there is a fondness for anti-entitlement rhetoric, Boehner seems to believe that there isn't actually any appetite for cutting these programs even among the most conservative members of his caucus.

"This is, I believe, is the most underrated obstacle to any deal: the GOP doesn't actually know what it wants to do on Social Security and Medicare. Sure, they talk a big game, but (1) most of [House Budget Committee Chairman Paul] Ryan's Medicare savings happen outside the 10-year window, and he doesn't touch Social Security, (2) when they have a chance to pass a bill that deals with the fiscal cliff, they just go after taxes and domestic spending, and (3) they just finished a campaign in which their standard-bearer campaigned against entitlement cuts."

Steve Bell -- The former Republican Senate Budget Committee adviser who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center says he is convinced that the country is headed over the fiscal cliff and blames the Republicans in large part:

"I think this is really a tragedy for the Speaker, and he's been misused by his caucus...This is the third time in 24 months the speaker has had to pull a bill off the floor that he had been told by his whip team had the votes...Democrats no longer know if they make a deal with Boehner whether he can deliver on it...I think what you're going to see is a little hardening on the positions of the president. He's going to say, look, the deal is on the table with the CPI adjustment and this and that. That's going to expire on December 31 and we're serious about this. Which means the next deal will be even more unpleasant to your caucus perhaps."

Larry Sabato -- The University of Virginia political scientist isn't ready to give up on the talks.

"As long as Boehner and Obama keep open the communications lines, there's always a chance a deal can come together at the last minute. But can Boehner sell it to his troops? Is the Speaker willing to bring a deal to the floor that won't get a majority of Republicans to vote for it? That may be the only way anything gets done: A minority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats."

Editor's Note: This article by Eric Pianin originally appeared on The Fiscal Times.

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