Congress’s debate on year-end "fiscal cliff" sets stage for fall showdowns

Not even the most hopeful players expect the tax-and-spending issue to be resolved until after the November elections. But this week’s tit-for-tat served to set the terms of the debate for the fall elections in both the presidential and congressional campaigns. …

At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the gridlock on how to structure a massive debt deal meant that the issue would be dealt with in a lame-duck session after the two sides delivered their pitches to voters in the November elections, a feeling epitomized by President Obama’s declaration last summer to GOP leaders that he would “take it to the people.”

In the absence of any serious negotiations of the fiscal issues ahead, the legislative agenda on Capitol Hill had become particularly light, which created the opening for each side to begin firing at the other on the tax-and-spending issues. Democrats said that in preparing for what they believed would be several weeks of Republican attacks accusing them of wanting to raise taxes and decimate the military budget, they decided to fire the first shots.