We are currently in the saber rattling and chest pounding portion of the negotiations regarding the so-called fiscal cliff. So far there have been no of trial balloon leaks and Senate gangs forming, which normally happens right before there is an actual attempt to hammer out a deal.
Instead, right now all that seems to be happening is just the public show. There are big press conferences, television interviews, many vague statements, and of course, endless rounds of letters. There are letters from caucuses, individual members, grassroots organizations, lobbying groups, and CEOs. Most of this is just sound and noise signifying nothing.
The only two things I really think worth paying attention to at this moment are the use of weasel words that hint to insiders a lack of actual commitment to a position and explicit promises about legislative maneuvering. Politicians love to stretch the truth but don’t like being caught in direct lie, so they choose their words carefully.
Having a Senator say they think something is a bad idea is meaningless. Does that mean they will actively oppose it or simply be unhappy when they vote for it? Only when a Senator promises to “filibuster” or “not support cloture” on a bill containing such provisions are they laying down a real marker that is hard to back away from.
The key phrases I’m listen for right now are things like “will veto,” “filibuster,” “oppose closure,” “won’t allow on the floor,” and “won’t let out of committee.” So far there have been relatively few explicit legislative promises of this nature, besides Obama’s squishy promise to veto any bill that keeps taxes for the wealthy at their current levels. That is probably a sign that real attempts at deal-making won’t start until the very end of the year or the beginning of next.
Photo by Rama under Creative Commons license.