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Read Between the Lines of the Fiscal Cliff Players


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.

His Foot Out the Door

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad has a few weeks left in office-and the Democrat envisions a legacy of deficit reduction. The North Dakota lawmaker supports an elaborate Rube Goldberg-like "budget enforcement mechanism" that would force spending cuts and tax hikes if Congress ultimately lacks the courage to reduce the debt.

He assured The Fiscal Times that his plan would not be a repeat of the $109 billion in automatic cuts set for next year under the budget sequester.

"We need what we call a 'fail-safe mechanism,'" he said this week. "To me, the way to do this is to have a down payment of revenue and spending, then they have a framework that outlines for the committees of jurisdiction their targets for spending cuts and revenue, and then an enforcement mechanism or failsafe …. But done in a different way than the sequester.... I don't think any serious person could look at the sequester and say that's good policy."

The Wall Streeter

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein-among a group of top executives-met with Obama on Wednesday and then Republican congressional leaders. Corporate America seems to be treating the fiscal cliff like a hostile merger between two companies: It's difficult but necessary.

"Both sides need to compromise," Blankfein said yesterday, according to CNN. "It has to be a balanced approach. This is not a question of one side is right, one side is wrong, good versus evil."

The Main Street Mob

Obama sat down Tuesday with a group of entrepreneurs, the kinds of small businessmen who Republicans warn would get pinched by higher tax rates. The group offered two critical observations-they've benefitted from some government programs and federal disarray is a big threat to their bottom lines.

Nikhil Arora, who co-founded Back to the Roots, a company that grows mushrooms from recycled coffee grounds, talked about the value produced by Jobs NOW. This program started by Obama's stimulus provides wage reimbursements for new hires. Of the start-up's 31 employees, six came through the program, Arora said.

Dave Bolotsky noted that the uncertainty from the debt ceiling crisis last year hurt sales at his company UncommonGoods, which sells creative gifts online and via catalog like a table in the shape of California or a bowl made of bike chains.

"At the meeting," Bolotsky said, "I mentioned that when they next set a date [for a budget overhaul], sometime other than Jan. 1 would be really wise because consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy and the holiday season is the peak period."

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

For more from The Fiscal Times:

7 Massive Challenges Facing the New SEC Chief

How to Fix the SEC in 28 Easy Steps

What Obama Said to Romney Over Lunch

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