President Obama vs John Boehner: It’s deja vu all over again

December 19, 2012

This is what it looks like when grand bargains end.

The dueling press conferences today by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner regarding the fast-approaching fiscal cliff had an eerie feeling of deja vu for political observers.  After all, this was the exact same way that the attempts by Obama and Boehner to strike a big debt and spending deal over the summer collapsed.  Threats over who would be blamed? Check.  Assertions that each side has gone more than halfway to compromise? Check. Calls to "get serious"? Check.

(And, for you history buffs out there, the back-to-back  press conferences was also the way the 1996 balanced budget/government shutdown showdown between President Bill Clinton and then House Speaker Newt Gingrich ended too. Thanks to the Post's Glenn Kessler for reminding us of that.)

After a weekend of seeming optimism on both sides, today's press conferences -- if you can even call Boehner's 51-second performance that -- made clear that talks have broken down and that both sides are prepping for the blame game that would begin moments after the country went over the fiscal cliff.

"I think anybody who looks at this objectively would say that coming off my election, I have met them at least halfway in order to get something done for the country," said Obama at one point during his presser. At another, he noted that "any objective person out there looking would say that, you know, we put forward a very balanced plan, and it’s time for us to go ahead and get it done."

Retorted Boehner: "I hope the president will get serious soon about providing and working with us on a balanced approach. He then pointed out that the so-called "Plan B" proposal would pass the House on Thursday, adding: "Then the president will have the decision to make: He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history." 

Now, in Washington two thing are almost always true: 1. Nothing gets done until the last possible moment it can get done and 2. It's always the darkest before the dawn.

Both governing principles suggest that declaring today the end of the end in terms of the possibility of a big-ish deal on the fiscal cliff is premature. But, today clearly marked a major step backwards, and one from which it isn't entirely clear the negotiations for a grand bargain on debts and spending can recover any time soon.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · December 19, 2012