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Speaker Boehner's photostream/ flickr
There have been few outward signs of progress in recent days as Congress and the White House negotiate over the so-called fiscal cliff. (We prefer to call it a fiscal obstacle course.) Naturally that's led to speculation that lawmakers won't be able to strike a deal to avoid the looming spending cuts and tax increases.
But if history is any guide, we shouldn't expect a deal in the weeks leading up to Christmas. On the contrary. We should look for a deal around the evening of Dec. 31, or even – perhaps – a day or two after we've rung in the new year. Why do I say that? Back in August 2011 lawmakers faced the possibility of a government shutdown when they couldn't reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling. In the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, it looked as though a government shutdown would be unavoidable. But a deal came – in the final hours of the final day. That suggests that we may still be two weeks from a deal. What's more, there's been some theorizing that all the quiet in recent days is a sign that negotiations are getting serious. The lack of noise coming from the White House and Speaker Boehner's office may suggest that the real work of compromise is now under way.
There's still a chance, of course, that negotiations will break down and no deal will come. There's also increasing speculation that House Republicans could reject a deal endorsed by Speaker Boehner. But do we have reason right now to think that no deal will come simply because no deal has yet been made? No, and an agreement could be closer than ever.
That doesn't mean this is good government, though. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. As we've been saying here for weeks and even months, last-minute budgeting short circuits the democratic process. Not only do you and I have little hope of making our own priorities known, most members of Congress are shut out of negotiations too. It's President Obama and Speaker Boehner hammering out a deal that will affect this country for years to come – even the Senate is excluded. What can we do in the meantime? Get in touch with your legislators. Ask for more open and transparent governing when the 113th Congress assembles next month.