But behind the scenes, top officials who have been involved in the talks for many months say the contours of a deal – including the size of tax hikes and spending cuts it will likely contain — are starting to take shape.

Cut through the fog, and here’s what to expect: Taxes will go up just shy of $1.2 trillion — the middle ground of what President Barack Obama wants and what Republicans say they could stomach. Entitlement programs, mainly Medicare, will be cut by no less than $400 billion – and perhaps a lot more, to get Republicans to swallow those tax hikes. There will be at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and “war savings.” And any final deal will come not by a group effort but in a private deal between two men: Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The two men had what one insider described as a short, curt conversation Wednesday night — but the private lines of communications remain very much open…

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told “Morning Joe” on Tuesday that he could see $400 billion in entitlement cuts. That’s the floor, according to Democratic aides, and it could go higher in the final give and take. The vast majority of the savings, and perhaps all of it, will come from Medicare, through a combination of means-testing, raising the retirement age and other “efficiencies” to be named later. It is possible Social Security gets tossed into the mix, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to fight that, if he has to yield on other spending fronts.

Democrats want most Medicare and other entitlement savings to kick in between 10 and 20 years from now, which will make some Republicans choke. Democrats will point to the precedent set by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of pushing most mandatory savings off until a decade from now.

“A lot of the big entitlement savings comes in the 10-20 year budget window, not the next 10 years,” a Democratic aide said. “Everybody will need to get on board understanding that. Paul Ryan and the Obama budget are the same on health cuts for next 10 years.”