Five weeks to the fiscal cliff

Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving – but now, back to reality in Washington, D.C., as the Congress returns to work this week from a holiday break seemingly no closer to a deal on taxes and spending – with the end of the year deadline for an agreement just five weeks away.

Christmas is four weeks from Tuesday. In other words, there isn’t much time to get a deal.

There were some staff meetings last week involving Congress and the White House about the fiscal cliff, but all of the optimistic talk from the first week after the elections about a quick deal still seems somewhat pollyannaish when you consider the political maneuvering on both sides at this point.

On one hand you have Republicans who say they won’t agree to tax rate increases, on the other you have Democrats who say they won’t agree to any major changes in entitlements.

On one hand you have Republicans who want major changes in entitlements and on the other are Democrats who say they won’t take anything that doesn’t include a tax hike on the rich.

On one hand you have Republicans who won’t talk about any budget cuts in the Pentagon and on the other are Democrats who don’t want any budget cuts outside of the Pentagon.

While Democrats talk a lot about using new tax revenue to balance the budget, those numbers don’t work.

While Republicans talk a lot about using spending cuts to balance the budget, those numbers don’t work either.

And the list can go on and on.

The above examples aren’t meant to dismiss the views of either party, but it is a reminder that there are very hardened positions here that make any deal very difficult.

Add in the fact that both parties seem to be using different sets of budget figures most of the time and you can understand why some of the curmudgeons in the Press Gallery aren’t so sure either side is really ready to embrace a true “compromise,” where both sides have to give in on some pretty important issues.

“By all logic, compromise is essential to avoid the cliff,” read the lead editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Just like all the positive talk from leaders in both parties about the fiscal cliff, that line sounds eminently sensible.

But putting that down on paper and getting both sides to give in, if that was easy, it would have been done already.

What seems most likely to happen? I still think it will be some sort of half-baked political deal that makes it look like Republicans and Democrats have come together – but really – the big issues will be floated until next year.

So we can find another deadline and have another game of Legislative Chicken.

Five weeks to go – who will blink?