Barack Obama officially kicked off fiscal cliff talks today, hosting a meeting with John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell at the White House, the Washington Post reports. Americans "want to see that we are focused on them, not on our politics here in Washington," the president said. On a more playful note, he added that tomorrow is Boehner's birthday, and that they'd only foregone a cake "because we didn't know how many candles were needed." The speaker poked him in the arm and replied, "Yeah, right."
The meeting was mostly just a photo-op, sources tell the Hill. The real work has already informally begun behind the scenes between White House officials and congressional staffers. Obama and Boehner will be the main negotiators, and aides say they're likely to use as a starting point the "grand bargain" they almost struck in 2011, which would have cut billions from Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for $800 billion in new tax revenue. But many other lawmakers, particularly House and Senate Democrats, want seats at the table. (Read more fiscal cliff stories.)