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Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 4:00am

Obama, Boehner Star In 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks

House Speaker John Boehner says there are still "serious differences" between him and President Obama when it comes to reaching an agreement to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax increases in the new year.

When it comes to the budget negotiations, the names Boehner and Obama come up more often than the rest.

When it comes to "fiscal cliff" negotiations, virtually all Capitol Hill lawmakers are on the outside looking in.

A pack of reporters asked Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) about the status of budget talks.

"You get more information many times than most of us in the conference. And I understand that. It's not a criticism. But there's just not much to tell us," he answered.

Jones had just left a House Republican Conference meeting, where Boehner spoke to his troops.

"He's our speaker and he's trying our best to negotiate, but to keep with the principles of the conference," Jones says.

Those principles include a strong opposition to raising taxes, especially tax rates and an equally strong desire to cut spending.

California Republican John Campbell, a member of the House Budget Committee, doesn't have a seat at the negotiating table.

"You always worry when someone else is negotiating for something that I am going to be voting on, and sure I'm worried that it may be a deal I may not want to or feel comfortable supporting. But I don't know that yet. I don't think there's any indication of that at this point," Campbell says.

It's not just rank and file representatives who are left out, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, says the president is the Democrat's lead negotiator.

"He knows our views," she says. "We trust his judgment. We all share the same values and again we trust his leadership on this."

Pelosi recently penned an OpEd arguing against raising the Medicare eligibility age. And earlier this week, a group of Democrats held a news conference to say it would be a mistake to cut Medicaid at least, in part, to remind their negotiator-in-chief of their views.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second highest-ranking member of the Democratic leadership team, says "fiscal cliff" talks are really all about two men, and he's at peace with that.

"Because I stand behind the president and what he's asking for, I feel comfortable with it. I've also seen the effectiveness and the perfidy of committees so having two people who can make a decision engaged makes sense," Durbin says.

Rarely have so many powerful people been so marginalized, and yet, most seem to believe this is the only way.

"We're beyond the stage of hearings, we're beyond the stage of rooms where we could have a lot of people participating," says Joe Minarek, senior vice president at the Committee For Economic Development, a non-partisan think tank.

He was involved in the 1986 tax overhaul. There were many more people at the table back then but Minarek says the process took years, and the deadline this time is just weeks away.

"We have to work so quickly that we need to get down to a very small number of people to make the decision. And that's why we have just the president and just the speaker at the table," Minarek says.

But in the end, whatever they agree to has to get 218 votes in the House and most likely 60 votes in the Senate. And that's when all those members of Congress will be powerful again.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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