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Republicans, Democrats dance around the 'fiscal cliff'

Republicans and Democrats peered over the “fiscal cliff” this week and allowed as how they might be able to get along after all — avoiding the automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts due to hit January 1, rattling the economy if Congress and the White House fail to act.

At least that was the message in their post-election rhetoric, and it continued five days later on the Sunday TV talk shows.

"I am optimistic," Sen. Bob Corker, (R) of Tennessee, said on Fox News Sunday. "I think there is the basis for the deal.”

Top Obama aide David Axelrod said he had been encouraged by House Speaker John Boehner’s comments in recent days. ‘I think there are a lot of ways to skin this cat, so long as everybody comes with a positive, constructive attitude toward the task,’ he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Any deal, all agree, would have to include revenue increases as well as budget cuts. A key question is whether any new revenue includes changes in tax rates — specifically, an end to the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, which is what President Obama has been pushing and Rep. Boehner says “no” to.

On Sunday, most people danced around that hot potato.

“There is a way of getting there on the revenue side,” Sen. Corker said. “The real question is: can we come to terms on the entitlement side?"

On revenues, a combination of options could include something to do with those Bush-era tax cuts, reforming the tax code, and limiting deductions.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Rep. Boehner said, “I don’t want to box myself in, and I don’t want to box anyone else in.”

So who has the upper hand?

President Obama won reelection and Democrats increased their majority in the Senate as Republicans kept their House majority (although some tea party Republican freshmen failed to win reelection).

One of Speaker Boehner’s challenges has been herding tea party types in his caucus toward some sort of bargain with the White House. That challenge remains, but the landscape and mood is different now.

“Most members were just taught a lesson that you’re not going to get everything that you want,” Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma told the New York Times. “It was that kind of election.”

“I just believe [Boehner] will have more leeway than in the past Congress,” Rep. Peter King (R) of New York told the Times. “The election will matter.”

President Obama has danced back and forth on taxes and revenues too.

"If we're serious about reducing the deficit we have to combine spending cuts with revenue,” he said at his press event Friday. “That means asking the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes."

“A little more in taxes….” Does that mean an end to those Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, a potential show-stopper for some Republicans?

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer said it’s “mathematically impossible” to get where Congress needs to without raising the tax rate on the rich. Still, he said, “If someone can show another plan that doesn't do that … we could look at it.”

In any case, things do seem to be inching toward a bigger tax bite on the wealthy.

“Look, I haven't met a wealthy Republican or Democrat in Tennessee that's not willing to contribute more as long as they know we solve the problem," Sen. Corker said Sunday.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, conservative commentator and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol went even farther.

"It won't kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires," he said. "It really won't, I don't think. I don't really understand why Republicans don't take Obama's offer…. Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile?"

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