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ROBINSON: Getting ready to jump from the 'fiscal cliff'

  • (WALT HANDELSMAN / Newsday)

Are you as sick of the “fiscal cliff” as I am? Actually, that's a trick question. You couldn't possibly be.

Having to read and hear all the constant blather about this self-inflicted “crisis” is an onerous burden, I'll admit. But just imagine having to produce that blather. Imagine trying to come up with something original and interesting to say about a “showdown” that has all the drama and excitement of, well, a budgetary dispute.

As if this weren't bad enough, it happens that both of the protagonists — President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner — have reasons to wait until the last possible moment to agree on a deal. Obama believes time is on his side, while Boehner needs to show the troops that he will fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets ... This could go on past Christmas, at which point many of us will be looking for a real cliff to jump from.

What is the true state of the negotiations? I can say with supreme confidence that we don't have a clue.

For all we know, Obama and Boehner may be working on some grand fiscal bargain that will overwhelm all opposition with its scope and audacity. Then again, in their one-on-one meetings, they might be discussing their golf swings. The fact that we've learned essentially nothing about their private conversations is either a very good sign or a very bad one, depending on which uninformed “analyst” or “observer” you choose to believe.

But the utter lack of reliable information doesn't stop us from talking and writing about the state of play. Boehner sounds flustered, so that's a bad sign — unless he just wants everyone to think he's flustered. Obama seems unworried, so that's a good sign — unless he's just hiding his inner Cassandra.

Numbers are being tossed around that have no basis in reality. I've heard television commentators confidently predict that we'll end up with an agreement for about $1.2 trillion in new revenue over the next decade. Why that figure? Well, we know that Obama began by demanding $1.6 trillion, and that Boehner began by offering $800 billion, so if you split the difference you get $1.2 trillion. This makes perfect sense — in some parallel reality. Anyone who thinks Washington is a split-the-difference kind of place hasn't been paying attention. It's more of a take-no-prisoners kind of place, and my guess is that meeting in the middle is one of the least likely conceivable outcomes. But what do I know?

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