(RELATED: Obama: Both Sides will Work All Weeken to Reach Deal)
At his White House remarks on Thursday, Obama abandoned all pretense of comparing his GOP rivals in Congress to children less adept and disciplined than Sasha and Malia. He cast off his dismissive tone evident at his Twitter town hall the day before when he took one of Boehner's questions about excessive government spending and the lack of job growth.
First things first. There was never going to be a deal as long as Obama and Boehner and their legions of lieutenants and foot soldiers were - as they have been for the better part of two weeks - digging the trenches deeper, holding press conferences and churning out condemnatory press releases like confetti.
Advocates of go-big-or-go-home strategy sense momentum. The chairmen of Obama's deficit and debt commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, said they "are very encouraged by the reports that the president and congressional leaders in both parties are discussing a serious, comprehensive deficit-reduction plan with 'everything on the table.' Negotiators should hopefully work toward an agreement that achieves at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction, stabilizes our debt by 2015 and addresses Social Security solvency to ensure that our nation remains financially strong for future generations."
(RELATED: Boehner Says 'Maybe 50-50' Chance Deal Will Be Reached Soon)
But Democratic interest groups are furious over any discussion of reducing Social Security benefits. It could be the break-point for Obama and what his former press secretary Robert Gibbs famously referred to as the "professional Left."
"The idea of cutting Social Security as part of these debt-ceiling negotiations is simply ridiculous," said Jim Dean, rother of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and chairman of the Democratic grassroots political action committee Democracy for America. "At a time when America is hurting, when people are losing their jobs and their homes at an unprecedented rate, we are now going to tell the average American working family that they will have the burden of supporting their parents in old age and no retirement for themselves. Let's keep our priorities straight and stop giving away the farm to Republican bullies."
As this outside pressure increases, it's quite likely that rank-and-file lawmakers will continue to stake out their turf on what a deal ought to look like. But it's going to be much quieter at the leadership level. Volatility in Washington at the highest level could trigger volatility on Wall Street and every other trading index across the globe. To serve the country, leaders now need to turn the volume down in public and turn their attention toward the contours of a deal.
Right now, the pursuit is for a big deal. But Obama and Boehner must also have a Plan B and Plan C in mind. It appears that everything is on the table: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, spending cuts, user fees, broadband-spectrum auctions, recalculations of the Consumer Price Index, tax reform, corporate tax subsidies and other tax preferences ("expenditures" in the current argot). There is, at one level, a Great Recession feel to the ever-widening dimension of these talks. The current assumption appears to be the bigger the deal, the better its chances of surviving. You know ... too big to fail.