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Fiscal Cliff Posturing in US is Old Political Game

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid returns from the Christmas recess to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 27, 2012.
With every day that passes the United States is edging closer to the fiscal cliff - a combination of tax hikes and federal spending cuts that could push the country back into recession. So why do some politicians appear to be moving so slowly?

From the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday, a plea for action from Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid - and a swipe at Republican Speaker John Boehner and the House of Representatives:

"They are not in Washington, D.C. The House of Representatives are not here," said Reid. "They couldn't even get the leadership together yesterday... John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing. It's obvious. Mr. President, what's going on around here?"

Ongoing gridlock

But what also is obvious to many Washington analysts is the usual politicking as lawmakers try to boost their support and their influence.

Gallup Polling Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport said no one has gotten a bigger boost than President Barack Obama.

"At the moment, President Obama's job approval rating for handling the fiscal cliff and also his overall job approval rating are fairly high. In fact, his overall job approval rating in recent days has been as high as we've seen it since the year he was first inaugurated," said Newport.

Newport said Democratic lawmakers also have seen their approval ratings increase, while Republicans ratings have held steady.

Don Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, said that in the end, the politicians want to come out of the crisis looking like they were the ones who won - only it is not as easy as it used to be.

"There would be little sweeteners that could be tossed out. A new dam for somebody's district; a new highway for somebody else's; a new research program that somebody was looking for. But the very fact that so much of this has to do with the budget and that everybody is holding the line on spending at the same time means that it's very hard to throw those extra sweeteners in," said Kettl.

Public pain

For now, some groups, like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, warn that the fiscal cliff is less and less about potential winners and increasingly about a whole lot of losers.

"It's not the politicians who are going to fall off the cliff. It's the American public. It's the small business owner and the taxpayers and the students and the teachers," said the committee's Marc Goldwein.

For most workers, the fiscal cliff means less spending money - as more taxes are taken out of their paychecks. And for many companies that provide goods or services to the federal government, it will mean less business, and in turn, job cuts.

And analysts say if that happens, it is a good bet the politicians likely will lose, too.