What the Fiscal-Cliff Zingers Really Mean

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If Washington avoids going off the fiscal cliff, it will be because of last minute negotiations. It is not yet the last minute. So for now, all of this "negotiating" amounts to little more than House Republicans and President Obama giving press conferences full of catchy phrases meant to end up on the news. Here are some of the best from Friday's back-and-forth, and a look into the subtext therein.

"Almost comical."

The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama's opening bid with this tweet: "Breaking: McConnell: White House offer "almost comical." He says GOP wants entitlement changes in exchange for more." We might go with a different headline, like, say:

Fiscal Cliff Negotiation Breakthrough: Obama Plan Merely 'Almost Comical,' GOP Says, Not 100% Comical So You Know There's Like Probably Some Wiggle Room There Right? Or Was It That 'Comical' Needed an Intensifier and 'Almost' Sounds Good Even If It Actually Weakens The Meaning? Developing...

"Naughty and nice list."

President Obama gave a post-election stump speech at a toy factory in Philadelphia Friday, and again, we at The Atlantic Wire see hope where other people see a stalemate. Obama offered this flirty warning to Republicans:

"I've been keeping my own naughty and nice list for Washington... So you should keep your eye on who gets K'NEX this year. There are going to be some members of Congress who get them and some who don't."

Oh, sure, it sounds like he's throwing warning flares that some kind of retribution will come down if Republicans don't accept an end to the Bush tax cuts on people making more than $250,000 a year. But! A naughty and nice list? Where the rewards are toys? That doesn't sound like an ominous threat of political bloodshed. It sounds like a page from the Victoria's Secret catalog.

"There’s a stalemate."

"There’s a stalemate. Let’s not kid ourselves," House Speaker John Boehner said in his obligatory response press conference after Obama's speech. "Right now, we’re almost nowhere." Again, the "almost" is critical. Republicans and Democrats are not nowhere, guys. Almost is progress.

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