As clock ticks, little progress on "fiscal cliff" deal

(CBS News) As President Obama takes his "fiscal cliff" message on the road today, negotiations between Democrats and Republicans will likely continue behind the scenes in Washington. But so far, there's little evidence to suggest the two sides are seriously engaged in hammering out the details of a deal that most expect will ultimately result -- and which will inevitably include provisions distasteful to people on both sides of the aisle.  

"These things are like little plays -- you have Act I and then you have Act II," said CBS News' Bob Schieffer this morning on "CBS This Morning." "In Act I we had both sides saying, 'This is really serious and we've got to do something.' Now we see Act II, where the two sides are sort of laying out their positions. But so far nothing has really happened."

Yesterday, House Republicans rejected a deal from the White House that would have reduced the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, created $1.6 trillion in revenue from higher taxes on households earning more than $250,000 per year, cut entitlement programs by $400 billion, and allocated $50 billion in stimulus spending next year for infrastructure projects, among other measures.

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House Speaker John Boehner expressed apparent outrage over the offer, which was conveyed to House Republicans by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Congressional Liason Rob Nabors in meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. After stating Wednesday that he was "optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis and sooner rather than later," he changed his tune on Thursday, telling reporters after his meeting that "no substantive progress had been made" over the last two weeks of talks and that there is a "a real danger" of going "off the cliff."

As Schieffer noted, few in Washington expect that to happen: Going over the so-called "cliff" without a deal in place would almost certainly create severe long-term consequences for the economy, and could dip the economy back into a recession.

"I can't imagine when it finally gets down to it that rational people would let that happen," said Schieffer. "I mean, to throw the country into a recession -- which you would almost certainly have -- to have these draconian cuts across the board ... Surely, we have not sent people to Washington who would be willing to let that sort of thing happen. I can't imagine that that will happen in the end."

Still, the clock is ticking for Congress to reach a deal. And in order to kick-start the process, according to Schieffer, both parties have to start talking directly to each other.

"So far they're talking past each other," he said, arguing that at present, both parties are essentially outlining their principles to their respective parties and to the public rather than getting down to the nitty gritty details required in dealmaking. "Once they get to talking to each other they may find some progress. But we're not to that act. This play is still in progress." 

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