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Meeting behind closed doors to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’

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By: CNN White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar

Washington (CNN) – After cameras left the photo-op of President Barack Obama and congressional leaders at the White House on Friday, the actual meeting got under way with the president explaining how he would like to resolve the fiscal cliff and tackle deficit reduction. House Speaker John Boehner went next and so on, until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi all spoke, a source familiar with the discussion said.

But after that, according to the source, the perfunctory stating of now well-known positions gave way to a free-flowing discussion about how to deal with the fiscal cliff.

No fireworks, no drama and no lines drawn on how to tackle the problem.

“When the president raised (the issue of increasing) revenue, there was no, ‘no, we’re not moving we’re not doing that,’ and when Republicans raised entitlement reform the president agreed it was needed as part of package that included revenue,” the source said.

While specifics weren’t agreed on in the Roosevelt Room, the leaders are starting to get much closer to an agreement than they did during the debt ceiling negotiations last year, resigned to the fact that they must stop the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts from kicking in at the new year while tackling deficit reduction through spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax reform.

The White House is encouraged that the four congressional leaders stood together outside the West Wing to voice their support for finding agreement on a tough issue, a bipartisan showing unseen in recent years.

So, what does a deal look like? Some key details are unclear: for instance, how to raise tax revenue. The White House and Democrats want to increase income tax rates on the highest earners. Republicans prefer to look at closing loopholes and eliminating deductions and tax credits.

Both sides will have to, in the end, swallow what they consider bitter pills. This is expected to be a bill that requires both Democratic and Republican votes to pass Congress, which you just haven’t seen on many pieces of key legislation in recent years.

The other outstanding issue is how to avoid Fiscal Cliff 2.0.

The White House and Congress must find a way to avoid the fiscal cliff – the tax increases and spending cuts set to kick in at the end of the year – in the near term. Next year they’re expected to tackle the bigger items of tax reform, entitlement reform and spending cuts in order to reduce deficit spending. Sources say they will likely link the two by passing a bill to avoid the fiscal cliff that includes a “trigger,” a consequence that kicks in if they don’t act on deficit reduction. But the fiscal cliff was the trigger linked to increasing the debt ceiling in the deal the White House brokered with Congress last summer. So how can we be sure we don’t end up here all over again? Maybe we can’t.