Public posturing or possible stalemate? Continued sniping by both sides in the fiscal cliff negotiations shows little movement on the core issue - higher taxes on the wealthy.
House Speaker John Boehner chose different language on Wednesday to describe his latest talks with President Barack Obama, calling a phone call the night before "deliberate" and "frank."
That contrasted to his use of "cordial" in labeling the previous discussion between the two men on Sunday.
Such a seemingly minor shift can speak volumes in the roller-coaster reality of Washington brinksmanship.
Boehner clearly sought to indicate little progress in the negotiations on an agreement to reduce chronic federal deficits and debt.
However, the latest talks involved counteroffers by both sides that included two shifts by the White House. Democratic sources said Obama lowered his revenue demand from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion, but also added changes to the corporate rate to his proposal involving income taxes.
No further details were available, but Boehner sounded unimpressed. He told reporters that Obama's latest stance remained far from a deal that he could accept or would win approval from the House and Senate.
"There were some offers that were exchanged back and forth yesterday," he said, adding that "the president and I had some pretty frank conversation about how far apart we are."
In particular, the Ohio Republican said that Obama's proposal failed to offer a balance between increased tax revenue and spending cuts promised by the president.
"In the five weeks since we've signaled our willingness to forge an agreement with the president, he's never put forth a plan that meets these standards," Boehner said. " And frankly, it's why we don't have an agreement today."
The White House and congressional Democrats rejected the Republican contention that the president's proposal lacked serious spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as part of a comprehensive deal.
Instead, they said Republicans were the ones making inadequate offers instead of seeking real compromise by agreeing to Obama's demand to maintain current tax rates for most Americans while allowing an increase on the top two income brackets.
Obama has held a series of campaign-style public events to back his call for extending Bush-era tax cuts for 98% of Americans, with rates returning to higher 1990s levels on income over $250,000.
That would address the main concern of the fiscal cliff, a set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will begin on January 1 without an agreement between Obama and Boehner.
Republican opposition in the face of support from the White House, Democrats and a majority of Americans, as shown by Obama's re-election and consistent poll results, showed GOP conservatives were holding hostage the continued tax cuts for the middle class to prevent higher rates on nation's wealthiest 2%, argued House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
While Republicans have offered to increase tax revenue by eliminating some deductions and loopholes, they so far refuse to accept any increase in tax rates as demanded by the president.
A Democratic source told CNN that the latest Republican offer included extending all the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, including rates on the top income brackets.
According to the source, that signaled to Democrats that Boehner and Republicans were "unwilling or unable to do any sort of deal that can pass the Senate or be signed by the president."
Obama campaigned on higher taxes on the wealthy in winning re-election last month, and he and Democrats say Republicans must concede on that issue for an agreement to happen.
In an interview on Tuesday with ABC News, Obama said that he was "pretty confident" Republicans would relent on taxes in order to get a deal.
At the same time, the White House complained Republicans have yet to offer details on which deductions or loopholes they would eliminate to raise revenue.
It was implausible for Republicans to contend that "we can somehow magically achieve significant revenue on the order that we need for that balanced deficit reduction package simply by closing loopholes that they will not name or capping deductions that they will not specify some time in the future," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"Those magic beans are just beans and that fairy dust is just dust," he added. "It is not serious and the president will not sign an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that Republican talk is meaningless until they show a genuine commitment to include significant revenue in any agreement.
"The American people are not going to be under the illusion that the Republicans are sometime in the future going to come up with revenue," Reid said. "They are going to come up with raising the rates" or "we are going over" the fiscal cliff.