'Fiscal cliff' fracas: From smiles to distrust to rancor
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It began so optimistically. On Nov. 16, after their first "fiscal cliff" session with President Barack Obama, the four leaders of Congress had stood in the driveway of the White House shoulder-to-shoulder for what is a rare photo these days, Republicans and Democrats together, smiling. There they were at the microphone, talking about a "framework" for tax reform and deficit reduction.
In hindsight, the shot of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - the Republicans – with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - the Democrats - seems like an old family photo, before things went bad.
From that day on the driveway, things went downhill, rather quickly. There was a feeling on both sides that the other was not acting seriously to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts that were set to occur at the beginning of this month. That was inflamed by public comments from ranking Republicans and Democrats, poisoning the atmosphere.
Many lawmakers and their aides fear that things may get more toxic through a series of bitter struggles expected in the next few months over the nation's debt and deficit burdens – fights not just between the parties but within them, and between the White House, the Senate and the House.
At stake is not only the U.S. government's ability to get its finances under control but whether it might default on its debts, and suffer further downgrades in the nation's credit rating.
While Obama is perceived the victor in the fiscal deal passed by Congress earlier this week, he did not come close to getting the one thing he demanded that could have headed off the next potential crisis: Freedom from a fight over the federal government's debt ceiling, which is likely to occur in February when the Treasury Department must ask Congress to increase the government's borrowing limit beyond the current $16.4 trillion.
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