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Read Between the Lines of the Fiscal Cliff Players

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Absent any serious face-to-face negotiations between Obama and Boehner, Washington is being bombarded by a cacophony of voices. Here are the most important things getting said and who's saying them.

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Let's be candid: Everyone has an opinion about the fiscal cliff, but nobody really knows how the high stakes talks will play out before Christmas.

Can long-standing Democratic and Republican rivals carve out a "grand bargain" or a "major down payment" to avoid a year end economic calamity? Will they yet again kick the can down the road to have more time to address the $16.2 trillion national debt? Or, will the talks blow up and unleash a tsunami of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts?

Absent any serious face-to-face negotiations between the two main principals-President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio -Washington is being bombarded by a cacophony of voices. Here are the most important things getting said and who's saying them.

The Decider-In-Chief

President Obama wants to steal the GOP's anti-tax identity.

In meetings with entrepreneurs, middle-class voters, and corporate CEOs, the administration stressed it favors immediately passing a bill to continue the Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. House Republicans have refused, hoping to secure the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent as well.

Obama suggested Wednesday that his opponents are willing to sabotage the economy by subjecting the entire county to a tax increase next year.

"Right now, as we speak, Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody's income. Everybody's," Obama said at the White House. "Even the wealthiest Americans would still get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income, so it's not like folks who make more than 250 aren't getting a tax break too."

The Bleeding-Heart Conservative

Speaker Boehner often breaks down in tears during interviews and speeches. His emotions may have gotten the better of him Wednesday, when he claimed to be "optimistic" about a deal.

But besides the cheerleading, his remarks indicated little inclination to compromise with Democrats. "You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two rates," he told reporters. "We're willing to put revenue on the table, as long as we're not raising rates."

Note: the chain-smoking, Perry Como look-alike is shrewd and susceptible to mood swings – as when he abruptly pulled out of secret talks with Obama about the debt ceiling last year after taking heat from conservatives for contemplating tax hikes.

The Outsider

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker isn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the Republican recently unveiled a 242-page, 10-year plan to reduce the deficit by $4.5 trillion, reform entitlement programs and raise $749 billion in fresh revenue.

The former mayor of Chattanooga has largely operated on the fringes so far, but the conservative is getting plenty of media attention for his admonition that colleagues "pull the Band-Aid off the scab" and approve a comprehensive deficit reduction plan by next month.

"I'm trying to show that it's easier to go ahead and make the decisions we all know we're going to have to make at some point – it's easier to make them now and put this behind us," Corker told The Fiscal Times. "I understand the negotiations are between the President and Speaker Boehner, and I've just tried to show that it's far simpler to go ahead and make the tough decisions that we need to make right now, instead of kicking the can down the road through a process."
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