Key to fiscal cliff negotiations: Holiday deadline

Is the key to reaching a deal on the fiscal cliff tied to the Christmas holidays?

Judging by past experience, the answer is yes.


"The Congress doesn't work on the clock; it works on the calendar," said Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who in 15 years of serving in Congress, including leadership jobs, has been through plenty of tough scrapes.

"There is just that required moment when something has to happen because you've run out of time," said Blunt. In the meantime, "there is a desire to maximize your negotiating position until you realize you don't have any room any more to negotiate. It almost invariably works that way."

With each day that goes by, as the Washington cliché goes, the "smell of the jet fumes" - meaning the airplanes that will carry members of Congress back to their home states for vacations or to foreign destinations on taxpayer dollars - gets stronger and stronger.

With December's onset bringing Christmas sharply into focus, the pace of fiscal cliff negotiations between Democrats and Republicans will pick up starting this week, according to lawmakers and their aides.

Technically, there is a December 31 deadline for Obama and Congress to find a way to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and spending cuts that experts say would give Americans a hangover far worse than what any drunken New Year's Eve celebration could deliver.

But for the 535 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, who need deadlines to force them to accomplish anything big, it is the threat of having to work through Christmas that is fueling the oncoming mad dash to a deal - or at least a deal to eventually get a deal.

While no formal negotiating sessions are on the schedule between Republicans and Democrats, expect the pace of work by staff members to pick up, along with the back-and-forth exchanges on television and in op-ed pages of the sort that got going last week.

I don't care why they come to an agreement. If it's because they don't want to miss Christmas with their families and will make a deal to avoid that, more powe to them.

But what kind of a deal will it be if it's rushed to the floor and blindly voted on by members? History has shown that not paying attention to what they  are voting on leads to very bad legislation.

Expect the same this time around.