"Fiscal cliff" talks down to Obama and Republican Boehner

Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - With about three weeks left

before the "fiscal cliff" deadline, the task of avoiding the

steep tax hikes and spending cuts was down to talks between

Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner and President Barack

Obama, according to Capitol Hill aides.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are "being kept in the loop," said

an aide close to Democratic leaders, ready to work out any


"The White House and Boehner have the most to work out, so

they do the most talking," he said on Friday.

Fundamental differences remain. The president is demanding

that tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31 be extended for the

middle-class taxpayers but not for the more affluent.

If and when agreement is reached on that question, the two

sides will try figure out a way to deal with the spending cuts,

perhaps postponing or trimming them, and work toward a

longer-term deficit reduction package to be taken up after the

newly elected Congress is sworn in next month.

"It's going to require both leaders," said Obama senior

adviser David Axelrod told MSNBC on Friday. "Each is going to

have to make sacrifices in order to get this done. I think

everybody recognizes the consequences of not getting it done."

"In order to solve the problem and achieve the $4 trillion

in savings, you're going to have to do a balanced package,

including all of these things," he said, in answer to a question

about the balance between tax hikes and entitlement reforms.

It's no surprise that Boehner and Obama are the central

players in the final weeks - that has been the pattern in

previous showdowns over fiscal issues between the two parties.

Boehner will have a challenge selling whatever agreement he

might reach to the Tea Party sympathizers in the House, some of

whom are openly critical of the concessions the speaker has

already made, particularly his openness to revenue increases of

any kind, even if not the tax hikes sought by Obama.

But with polling showing that Americans will blame

Republicans if the country goes off the cliff, more House

Republicans have been urging Boehner to get an agreement quickly

even if it means tax hikes for the wealthy.