December 28, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner arrives at the White House today. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The White House meeting on a debt deal between Barack Obama and congressional leaders has broken up, with no nice statements of cooperation or anything else — and according to reporting by The Post’s Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, no new offer placed on the table.

This is neither a surprise nor, mostly likely, a disaster. Two parts to it. First of all, most (although not all) analysts believe that there’s nothing drop-dead about Jan. 1. Going “over” the cliff only to reach a deal soon after just wouldn’t be a big deal, if these analysts are correct. And second, from the very beginning, it’s appeared to many close observers of Congress and the budget process that a deal was far more likely after new tax rates go into effect than before. 

Remember that both sides have incentives to pretend that they’re open to a deal right now even if everyone in the negotiations has long since concluded that everything has to wait until the calendar turns, which means that they have to keep having meetings, floating deals or attempting silly plans; it just wouldn’t do for everyone to have dispersed and ignored the whole thing until next week. 

So while there are no guarantees that everything will work out just fine, I  wouldn’t worry too much about what’s happening right now. It’s almost certainly just an unfortunate, ugly, but still necessary part of the process. Of course, it’s still vaguely possible that something will happen suddenly in the next few days; I see some Twitter speculation that a lack of bitter statements throwing blame back and forth mean that perhaps the two sides are closer to agreement than it appears. But most likely we’re all waiting, as we have been all along, for the time to be right for a deal.