Fiscal Cliff: The Cast of Characters

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks with Speaker of the House John Boehner during a meeting at the White House in Wash., DC, in this July 23, 2011 file photo.

With fiscal cliff drama unfolding in Washington like a repertory production, here is an insiders' guide to the cast of characters and the roles they'll play in the negotiations to avert automatic spending cuts and tax hikes by the end of the year.

Barack Obama as the Man With the Mandate - President Obama has been here before, having negotiated his way through a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, a government-shutdown, a debt-limit increase. After he won re-election pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy (and not the middle class), we know what he's pushing for now.

But tax talks have revealed both the campaigner in chief and the compromiser in chief.

In Congress's 2010 lame-duck session, with Republicans set to control the House of Representatives after winning massive gains the previous month, Obama acceded to GOP demands to extend the Bush tax cuts, earning him some centrist plaudits. Bill Clinton even showed up at a White House press conference. At the same time, Obama has stumped hard for more taxes on the wealthy, and on Wednesday, he launched his public-relations campaign for these higher taxes.

But which Obama will show up in the next few weeks?

John Boehner as the Man With the Other Mandate -The speaker of the House might have the hardest job in all of Washington: not just brokering a deal with Obama but selling it to his own party. He has his own "mandate," one that Republicans talk about a lot: the re-election of House Republicans, who won while promising no tax hikes and enactment of Paul Ryan's entitlement proposals -- everything Obama ran against.

Boehner, too, has been here before, having negotiated with Obama on the looming government shutdown and the debt-limit increase in 2011. In his post-election interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Boehner said he'd "put revenues on the table, but through reforming our tax code," while holding the line against tax hikes. Boehner and Obama nearly reached a "grand bargain" on spending and revenue last year.

We don't know if another big compromise is in the offing, but Boehner says he doesn't want time to expire: "Republicans are committed to continuing to work with the president to come to an agreement to avert the so-called fiscal cliff," Boehner told reporters Wednesday, as ABC's John Parkinson reported. At the same time, he's working to put the onus on Democrats, telling reporters on Thursday that the other party must come up with a more substantive plan, and that if it doesn't, there's a real risk of going over the cliff.

Tom Cole and Dick Durbin as the Unwelcome Ambassadors - More than anyone else, these two have stuck out their necks for compromise. On Tuesday, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who previously served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the House GOP whip team it should follow Obama's call to extend the middle-and-lower-income Bush tax rates and sort the rest out later.

On the same day Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate majority whip, entered the liberal lion's den to press for compromise. "We can't be so naive as to believe that just taxing the rich is going to solve our problems," Durbin told progressives during a speech at the Center for American Progress.

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