In the Groundhog Day world of fiscal cliff posturing, with both sides repeating the same arguments over and over, what isn't said often tells more than the spoken word.
House Speaker John Boehner on Friday criticized President Barack Obama for the umpteenth time for not responding to the latest Republican proposal, saying White House inaction wasted time with the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts of the fiscal cliff looming.
"This isn't a progress report because there is no progress to report," Boehner told reporters at a news conference to end a week in which the House went home early. "When it comes to the fiscal cliff that is threatening our economy and threatening jobs, the White House has wasted another week."
What Boehner didn't say, when questioned by reporters, was whether there was room for compromise on Obama's demand for increased tax rates on high income earners while extending current rates for most Americans.
Boehner and Republicans reject any increase in tax rates, but have agreed that increased revenue from tax reform such as eliminating some deductions and loopholes should be part of a comprehensive deficit reduction package.
Asked Friday whether the higher tax rate that would be assessed on income over $250,000 for families under Obama's plan could be negotiated, Boehner at first ignored the question and then avoided a direct answer.
"There are a lot for things that are possible to put the revenue that the president seeks on the table, but none of it's going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on 'my way or the highway,'" Boehner said.
Obama and the White House also have avoided answering questions about whether they would accept a lower rate on the top income bracket than the 39.6% that would take effect if Obama gets his way, or if no deal is reached.
The current rate is 35%, and one path to a deal suggests a compromise at around 37% that would allow Obama to say he got more revenue from the wealthy while giving Republicans a concession.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV this week, Obama also hinted at a possible long-range solution, saying lower tax rates for the wealthy could be negotiated as part of broader tax reform in 2013, but only after those rates increase now.
With both sides agreeing the wealthy will pay more, the fiscal cliff talks come down to how much Republicans can wring out of the White House in return for giving in on taxes.
To Obama, it's all about first locking in additional revenue from the higher tax rates on the wealthy, an outcome the GOP has long rejected.
Republicans led by Boehner want to secure commitments on entitlement reforms and spending cuts opposed by Democrats as part of a broader agreement to reduce the nation's chronic federal deficits and debt.
Boehner confirmed Friday that talks between staff members on both sides resumed Thursday for the first time this week, after he and Obama spoke by phone the day before. However, the Ohio Republican said nothing came out of the discussions.
"The phone call was pleasant but was just more of the same," he said. "Even conversations that the staff had yesterday, just more of the same. It's time for the president, if he's serious, to come back to us with a counter offer."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi rejected Boehner's characterization of the talks, telling reporters on Friday that the Republican leadership was responsible for the chamber being in session "barely a full day this week."
"Why are we not here to pass the middle-income tax cuts?" Pelosi asked. "Why are we not here to even debate the middle-income tax cut? Could it be because the Republicans are holding the middle-income tax cuts, as they have all along, hostage to tax cuts for the wealthy?"
Later Friday, Vice President Joe Biden ate lunch with what the White House described as middle-class Americans at an event intended to highlight the need for holding down their tax rates.
"We all agree wealthy people are just as patriotic as poor folks, they are just as patriotic as middle-class folks, and we don't know many people ... doing really well who aren't willing to pay more," Biden said of raising the tax rate on high income earners.
It remains unclear if a deal will happen before the end of the year -- less than four weeks away -- or if the negotiations will carry over into 2013 after the fiscal cliff of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts takes effect.
While economists warn that going over the fiscal cliff could lead to a recession, the administration has signaled it can delay some of the impacts to allow time to work out a deal.
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that middle class families would pay about $2,000 a year more in taxes without action.
All signs point toward a two-step approach sought by the newly re-elected Obama -- an initial agreement that would extend lower tax rates for income up to $250,000 for families, while letting rates return to higher levels from the Clinton era on income above that threshold.
Republicans opposed to any new revenue in their quest to shrink government now realize Obama's victory and public support for the president's campaign theme of higher taxes on the wealthy leave them with little negotiating leverage.
A new poll Thursday was the third in recent days to indicate most Americans accepted raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 as part of a fiscal cliff deal.