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In 'fiscal cliff' deal, Joe Biden upstages President Obama (+ video)

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By Saturday night, McConnell had made his latest offer, but Senator Reid never countered back. That’s when McConnell asked Mr. Biden to step in to jump-start the negotiations.

Unlike President Obama, Biden had spent 36 years in the Senate and is a seasoned negotiator. He and McConnell worked together to break an impasse over extending the Bush-era tax cuts in December 2010. With Reid gone silent, Biden looked like McConnell’s best option for a way out.

“Yesterday, after days of inaction, I came to the floor and noted we needed to act, but that I needed a dance partner. So I reached out to the vice president in an effort to get things done,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate mid-afternoon on Monday.

By contrast, Mr. Obama played “tough cop” in the negotiations – or, critics say, inept cop. As negotiations hung by a thread, the president taunted Republicans in a campaign-style event at the White House Monday.

A deficit deal was “within sight,” the president told cheering middle-class voters, but added that Congress could be counted on to delay finding it, “if there’s even one second left.”

Moreover, he laid down an ultimatum to congressional Republicans.

"Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone – and you hear that sometimes coming from them ... then they've got another thing coming,” Obama said. “That's not how it's going to work at least as long as I'm president, and I’m going to be president for the next four years."  

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