As the city, the markets and the world weigh in on a possible “fiscal cliff” deal, it’s increasingly clear that only two opinions will count in the end.
Lawmakers have been reduced to bystanders as they wait to see whether President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner can produce a deal. The two men met again Thursday evening for their second face-to-face negotiation in five days.
Aides emerged after the 50-minute meeting to announce that no details would be released beyond saying the meeting was “frank” and that “lines of communication remain open.”
“We are pretty much completely in the dark,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, adding that he fears having a grand bargain worked out behind closed doors then dropped onto Congress in a take-it-or-leave-it vote.
But others shrugged at the situation, saying this is the way it has to be.
“I think it is understandable that the speaker is the lead on this,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.
On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said he doesn’t expect the president to have to negotiate with all 435 members of the House.
“If he is going to have one, I would just as soon that he would have a discussion with me, but we know that is not going to happen. So [Mr. Boehner] is our leader, we support him,” Mr. Chaffetz said.
Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, said the cryptic discussions are “a practical reality.”
“If you are having delicate negotiations as the president and the speaker are, if every word and whisper is leaked out, it just creates a firestorm and retards rather than facilitates progress,” Mr. Welch said. “So, it is just the way it has got to be.”
The Rev. Pat Conroy, the House chaplain, seemed to underscore the stakes riding on those few when he opened Thursday’s session with a prayer saying that upon their shoulders rested “the most important negotiations of our time.”
Mr. Boehner has relented on key conservative principles, agreeing to raise revenue by at least $800 billion — but hasn’t laid out specifics other than to say it should come from ending loopholes and deductions, not from raising marginal income-tax rates on the wealthy or anyone else.
Mr. Obama insists that rates go up, and the White House says negotiations can’t proceed until Republicans agree.
The two are no strangers to trying to negotiate grand bargains.