Fred Barnes assesses the federal fiscal-cliff discussions for the latest issue of The Weekly Standard.

Obama’s conciliatory get-togethers with House speaker John Boehner—they met twice last week—have been all for show. He followed up one chat by sending a fresh proposal to Boehner with jacked-up levels of spending. Boehner and congressional Republicans were taken aback by the White House’s audacity, but they shouldn’t have been. They’ve all but invited him to raise the ante.

While hiking his demands, the president has refused to consider spending cuts until Republicans accept income tax rate increases for the top 2 percent of taxpayers. In effect, Obama’s team requires a concession by Republicans before serious negotiations can begin. It’s a ploy reminiscent of the Soviets, who wanted a reward just for coming to the negotiating table.

This has produced a stalemate. Leaks about progress in reaching a compromise are not to be believed. As of late last week, Obama and Republicans were further apart than when talks began. If no agreement is reached before January 1, roughly $400 billion in tax increases will go into effect immediately and automatic cuts in defense and domestic spending will follow. At worst, it might cause a recession. It’s really a fiscal slope, not a cliff.