With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, Speaker John A. Boehner has offered to meet President Obama on the dark side of the moon to try to move talks forward on a broad deal that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements like Medicare.


 

With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, Speaker John A. Boehner has offered to meet President Barack Obama on the dark side of the moon to try to move talks forward on a broad deal that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements like Medicare.


Republicans, frustrated with what they see as Mr. Obama’s intransigence during negotiations, said shipping the president off to the moon – a strategy known as “Plan O” - is the right thing for the country and the best hope for the two parties to meet halfway on a budget deal.


“He has not come to where he needs to be, so we need to send him somewhere else,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. “And we’re going to send Speaker Boehner there to keep an eye on him.”


Mr. Boehner told Republicans this week that “taxes are going up on everyone on Jan. 1, so why shouldn’t I go up, too.”


Republican leaders say the estimated cost of $30 billion to send the two leaders to the moon and back will be worth it “if it gets the president’s head out of the clouds.”


The White House came out strongly against the characterization of Mr. Obama as being run off earth by the Republicans.


“The president has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table on this planet that achieves significant deficit reduction and reflects real compromise by meeting the Republicans halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending from where each side started,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “And he is willing, and able, to do the same thing on the moon if that’s what it takes. That is not fleeing earth. That is the essence of compromise.”


When the possibility of a summit meeting in space was first broached earlier in the week, some lawmakers were initially hopeful that it signaled some sort of mysterious breakthrough in the closed-door negotiations between the speaker and the president.


Though Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner seemed no closer reaching a wide-ranging agreement to head off hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning next month, there was a sense that the two leaders - some 239,000 miles and 300 degrees Fahrenheit removed from Washington - might suddenly find some common fiscal ground in their new, weightless environment.


“I don’t think you can overemphasize the importance that a dramatic change of environment can have on negotiations and compromise. When there is nothing but a couple of dozen impact craters and lava flows and the two of you, things tend to get done,” said one hopeful congressman as he sipped from a glass of Tang.


And soon after Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner – in the company of a space-helmet-bedecked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner - met with NASA officials earlier in the week in preparation for the “fiscal launch,” the halls of Capitol Hill were suddenly heavy with the scent of giddy optimism.


White House and Congressional aides were in near bipartisan accord, issuing almost identical statements, saying “the lines of communication – and interstellar travel - remain open.”


Striking an unusually upbeat note, one senior administration official said of the planned meeting on the moon that “at least we will not be in the same place — and that in itself is cause for rejoicing.”


But then, pivoting to hardball tactics just days before a deadline for finalizing plans for the lunar trip, Mr. Boehner promised to bring a bill to the House floor that would change the landing plan agreed to by NASA and the president.


The move came less than 24 hours after Mr. Obama offered a comprehensive deal on the trip parameters that the speaker is now calling unbalanced and insufficient.


“What we’ve offered meets the definition of a balanced approach, but the president is not there yet,” Mr. Boehner said, pointing on a map to a crater he says is “the only common sense place” for the mission’s landing.


The speaker made it clear he would continue negotiating with the president, and some House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting with Mr. Boehner confident that a deal on a lunar landing spot was now in reach.


But several members said they remained befuddled about how such a deal would ultimately come together, and they were skeptical that they could find a final common landing place with Democrats.


“I feel discouraged,” said Representative Kristi Noem of South Dakota. “Hopefully we can do the right thing. But I am beginning to wonder if the moon will really give us the solution we are hoping for.”


Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column for GateHouse Media. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.