Today’s last-ditch summit at the White House

The Washington Post: “President Obama summoned congressional leaders to a Friday summit at the White House in a last-ditch effort to protect taxpayers, unemployed workers and the fragile U.S. recovery from severe austerity measures set to hit in just four days. The White House said Obama and Vice President Biden would host the four senior lawmakers — Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — at the Oval Office meeting Friday at 3 p.m. EST.”

Steve Benen answers questions about White House negotiations today:

What is it, exactly, these folks have to talk about?

Putting aside all the posturing, press releases, and finger pointing, the fact remains that nothing has changed except the calendar. Republicans still don’t intend to compromise, don’t want to present specific ideas to further their own goals, and don’t intend to act until the president negotiates with himself, coming up with a plan filled with preemptive concessions, predicated on guesses as to what GOP officials might find acceptable.

So what’s the point of today’s White House chat?

I suspect one of two scenarios is true:

1. Participants have been very quietly working out the details of a compromise, and today’s meeting is about sealing the deal while working out a legislative strategy. They’re closer than is publicly known, and today, they’ll try to work out the final details.

2. Everyone knows failure is inevitable, and there’s no way a deal can be reached with Republican extremists, especially with so little time remaining, so today’s meeting is motivated by theatrics — they’ll go through the motions so no one can say they didn’t at least try to sit in a room and talk to one another.

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the latter.

I have a third question: did Democrats plan to go over the cliff all along?

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