In search of favorable headlines and optimal negotiating positions, Democrats and Republicans are intensifying public pitches for their deficit-reduction positions.
Following a House Republican leadership meeting with several high profile CEOs, Erskine Bowles, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, delivered the headline Republicans have been seeking to the Wall Street Journal: "Democrats must move on entitlements in cliff deal, Bowles says."
Upon the article’s posting, Republican press aides emailed, tweeted and retweeted the text. “I think we have to have substantive, real entitlement reform,” Bowles said to television cameras before his meeting with top House Republicans. “That's got to be as much a part of the discussion as taxes have been, and I stressed that yesterday in the White House, and I'll stress it today here.”
Recently, Republicans borrowed the White House’s “balanced approach” talking point to pressure Democrats into offering significant entitlement reform. But, Congressional Democrats said entitlements should be part of a later, separate discussion and instead want immediate tax increases on families earning more than $250,000 a year to go along with the $1 trillion in budget cuts Congress passed last year.
Republicans are also accusing the White House of relentless campaigning, during presidential meetings this week with CEOs, small business owners and middle-class taxpayers. On Friday, President Obama is scheduled to visit a small business in Montgomery County, Penn. All of these events are designed to press the Democrats’ position on taxes.
While politicians continue to score headlines and photo ops, there’s a growing sense of concern lawmakers and the White House will fail to reach a deal before the end of the year. Veteran Hill aides on both sides of the political aisle said up to this point, the timeline for reaching a deal is appropriate. Since last summer, party leaders and their staffs have been trading deficit-reducing measures through high-level talks and the failed super committee.
While Democrats and Republicans met separately with executives and advocacy groups, many, like Bowles and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, spoke Wednesday with both parties, serving as a potential back channel to further discussions, said an aide close to discussions.
With both sides hoping their positions have strengthened, in the coming weeks Democrats and Republicans will begin serious talks to assemble a deal. Whether they succeed depends, in part, on both sides concluding that it’s better for them to strike a deal now rather than strike one in a post-fiscal-cliff world.