Rhetoric Flows at Brink of Fiscal Cliff

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(Courtesy: MGN Online)

By Gregory Wallace, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri ratcheted up the pressure on the other over the fiscal cliff negotiations in their weekly addresses on Saturday.

They sounded optimistic tones about a deal, spoke of the dire consequences of failure, but offered no suggestion the talks had progressed since Friday, when the rhetoric was the same.

Obama suggested that if Republicans oppose a deal or his last-ditch proposal “and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative.” Blunt, a freshman senator from Missouri who previously held a top leadership position in the House, blasted Democrats for spending “months drawing partisan lines in the sand.”

“We still can avoid going over the fiscal cliff if the president and the Democrat-controlled Senate step forward this week and work with Republicans to solve this problem and solve it now,” Blunt said.

The clock is running short on a deal to avoid the across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that would trigger automatically in the new year, which begins Tuesday.

Behind the stagecraft are fundamental philosophical differences between the two parties and an agreement reached a year-and-a-half ago to trigger the sequester — those spending cuts which neither side favors — as an incentive to reach a deal.

Feeling the pressure, both sides have spent as least as much effort to win public perception as they have spent negotiating. Talks between Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have appeared at times to cool just as quickly as they’ve heated.

Still, both sides claimed optimism after an hour-long meeting on Friday, though Obama explained what he would propose as an alternative if the deal-making falls short.

“If an agreement isn’t reached in time, then I’ll urge the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction,” he said in his address.

Blunt suggested the makeup of Washington — Republicans holding the House, and Democrats holding the Senate and White House — was a reason for optimism.

“Divided government is a good time to solve hard problems, and in the next few days, leaders in Washington have an important responsibility to work together and do just that,” he said.

But so far, the divisions between the two parties and bodies appear to have hardly been breached.

“The president’s proposal to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans won’t even pay one-third of the annual interest that’s now owed on this massive $16 trillion debt,” Blunt said. “In fact, the President’s tax hike would only fund the government for eight days. Americans deserve to know: What does the president propose we do for the other 357 days of the year?”

Obama countered, “We’re now at the point where, in just a couple days, the law says that every American’s tax rates are going up. Every American’s paycheck will get a lot smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy. It would hurt middle-class families, and it would hurt the businesses that depend on your spending.”

Neither offered concessions in their weekly addresses, leaving the negotiations behind closed doors.

“You meet your deadlines and your responsibilities every day,” Obama said. The folks you sent here to serve should do the same.”