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As fiscal cliff approaches, staffers work behind the scenes

Saturday - 12/1/2012, 3:02pm  ET

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This Nov. 14, 2012 file photo shows President Barack Obama gesturing while answering a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. It's entirely possible that lawmakers and the White House will reach a deal to avert an avalanche of tax increases and deep cuts in government programs before a Jan. 1 deadline. To do so, however, they'll have to resolve serious political and fiscal dilemmas that have stymied them time after time, despite repeated vows to overcome them. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Heather Brady, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - A month away from the "fiscal cliff," the White House and Republicans have failed to reach an agreement so far.

But despite a lack of action Saturday from the principal players in the political discourse, aides and other staffers behind the scenes are working on the issue.

"The most high-level talk this week was Tim Geithner, the (U.S.) Treasury secretary," says Paul Brandus, White House correspondent for the West Wing Report. "He went to the Hill. That was the meeting that erupted in laughter when he listed the President's demands to (Senate Republican Leader) Mitch McConnell. But there are back-channel talks going on."

Brandus tells WTOP there are no fiscal cliff meetings listed on President Barack Obama's official schedule over the next week, but that doesn't mean he won't discuss it. The White House often avoids mentioning those kinds of plans in advance.

Almost a month after the election, Brandus says President Barack Obama has leveraged the 332 electoral votes he won to see how far he can go.

"He's really upped the stakes in this fight…asking for twice as much as Republicans were willing to give to him last year in terms of new revenue," Brandus says. "The real power grab with the White House, of course, is the demand that the president be given unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own. There seems no way that he's going to get that, but it just shows you just how far apart these two sides are."

The two sides of the aisle are also still grappling with a point of disagreement that derailed talks last year - the fight over tax hikes for the top 2 percent. Though many hoped that the two sides would eventually come together after the election, Brandus says it is understandable that they are still so far apart at the beginning of December.

"I don't think people should be surprised, given the past history that the president and folks like John Boehner have had," Brandus says. "Their relationship has not been particularly good personally. Then there's the professional (one) where they just can't agree on anything."

Before the general public begins panicking over the fiscal cliff, though, Brandus says it is important to remember that problems of such a contentious nature tend to get solved in the "bottom of the ninth."

"It could be that a couple of weeks from now, perhaps they will reach some kind of an agreement," he says. "But perhaps a more likely scenario is something that we've heard before. This is metal hitting asphalt…the sound of the can being kicked down the road. They may come up with a short-term framework that will get us past the new year."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)