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Boehner Eyes The Exit: Seven And A Half Things To Know

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JOHN BOEHNER FISCAL CLIFF
John Boehner is looking for the exit in fiscal-cliff talks. | Getty Images

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Thing One: The Boehner Retreat Begins: Wealthy Americans, you might want to don that knight armor in the front hall or order your manservants to shield you, because your champions in Congress are preparing to toss you beneath the nearest mass-transit conveyance.

Speaker of the House John Boehner yesterday presented his counteroffer to President Obama's opening offer of a deal to shrink the federal budget deficit. It was an obvious non-starter, representing just a teensy retreat from the Republicans' opening offer. It called for about $800 billion in extra tax revenue, but mainly by closing unnamed loopholes and deductions -- a plan first proposed by La Jolla gas-station attendant Mitt Romney. Boehner's offer did not budget on raising tax rates for the wealthy and called for about $800 billion in cuts to Medicare and Social Security. In other words, notes Ezra Klein, it is almost exactly the deal Obama was willing to take last year, when his political standing was far, far weaker. That's probably not going to fly, now that Obama has won re-election on a promise of raising tax rates for the wealthy.

Those wealthy, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the looming fiscal escarpment of tax increases and spending cuts to get even wealthier in a big hurry. Oracle announced it was paying three dividends all at once, before tax rates on dividends potentially rise next year, creating a $200 million windfall for CEO Larry Ellison. Now he can finally build that extension on his island!

Anyway, Obama is probably not going to take Boehner up on his offer to turn the clock back to 2011. Even alleged National Budget Guru Erskine Bowles, who essentially crafted the Boehner proposal as a hypothetical last year, backed away from it yesterday, the Wall Street Journal notes. The point to take from all of this is that Boehner has essentially flinched first, and he will likely flinch last, even though he is already taking some heat from conservatives, as the WSJ points out. He has little choice. Little wonder that, in private, debt-deal talks are moving along relatively well, all things considered, write Sam Stein and Sabrina Siddiqui of the Huffington Post.

Thing Two: Good News, Bad News Economy: All of the panic ginned up about the fiscal cliff, along with Europe's never-ending recession and China's slowdown, have kept the U.S. economy teetering on edge, as fresh data showed yesterday. A closely watched measure of U.S. manufacturing sentiment by the Institute for Supply Management showed factory activity shrank in November for the first time in three months. Meanwhile, General Motors said it was temporarily shutting down an Ohio plant, and maybe another, to curb inventories, the Wall Street Journal writes. At the same time, GM and other auto makers reported their best sales in more than four years in November, the WSJ writes. Fortunately, consumers haven't gotten the memo to panic about the fiscal cliff just yet.

Thing Three: One Bank To Rule Them All: While American politicians haggle endlessly over their debt, European policy makers are haggling endlessly over their debt crisis. Today's knotty mess is a plan to put all European bank supervision under the European Central Bank. You'll never guess who is balking at the idea! OK, you'll guess: It's Germany. In happier news, sort of, at least for somebody, Europe's offer to buy back Greek debt was far more generous than investors expected, meaning a giant windfall for hedge funds, Bloomberg writes. Heart-warming, yes?

Thing Four: Auditors Not Comfortable Being Audited: Whenever there are financial shenanigans or crises around the world, from Enron to AIG, accounting firms can be found, doing nothing to help. The latest case in point: A wave of shady Chinese companies that went public in the U.S. a few years back, milking investors of billions before going bust. And yes, accounting firms rubber-stamped these companies' financial documents. Now the Securities and Exchange Commission is cracking down on the Chinese firms and would like to take a look at the accountants' books. But the accountants aren't cooperating, so the SEC charged the Chinese units of several global accounting firms yesterday over their refusal to cooperate. The accounting firms say they've done nothing wrong and are just having a hard time getting documents from China.

Thing Five: Cash-Poor, At Least At Home: U.S. companies have tons of cash, but much of it is being held forever overseas, in order to avoid taxes back at home, meaning some companies have to borrow money to pay dividends, even though they have plenty of cash, writes Kate Linebaugh of the Wall Street Journal: "With billions of dollars overseas that may never come back, the Securities and Exchange Commission is concerned that companies haven't been presenting investors with an honest appraisal of their liquidity."

Thing Six: Coming Soon: More Miracle Drugs: A ruling by a federal court yesterday could make it easier for drug companies to pitch drugs for any kind of use, a practice banned by the Food and Drug Administration, the New York Times writes: "The judges said that the ban on so-called off-label marketing violated the representative’s freedom of speech. The 2-to-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan addresses a long-running and costly issue for the industry, which has paid billions of dollars in penalties to the federal government in recent years after being accused of marketing blockbuster drugs for off-label uses.

Thing Seven: You Say High-Speed Trading Robots Like It's A Bad Thing: A new study by the chief economist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission finds that high-frequency traders are profiting at the expense of other, slower investors, the New York Times writes. You might respond to this by saying "duh." But the finding is somewhat controversial, given that some other studies, by the high-frequency-trading industry, have found that high-frequency trading is just wonderful.

Thing Seven And One Half: Photos Of The Year: From BuzzFeed, the 45 most compelling photos of 2012.

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Also on HuffPost:

10 Ways You've Already Fallen Off The Fiscal Cliff
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