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Meeting at the edge of the cliff

The gang’s all here.
President Obama is scheduled to meet with Congressional leaders of both parties today. (Rex Features via AP Images)
President Obama is scheduled to meet with Congressional leaders of both parties today.

The gang’s all here.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet in the Oval Office Friday afternoon along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The aim is to resuscitate the near-dead spirit of compromise over budget negotiations and strike an agreement that averts the “fiscal cliff,” which consists of $600 billion worth of combined tax hikes and spending cuts set to to kick in on Jan. 1.

But some feel Friday’s White House meeting is merely for show. It "doesn't feel like anything that's very constructive is going to happen,” said Sen. Bob Corker Friday on CBS This Morning. “This afternoon’s meeting feels much to me like optics to make it look like we’re doing something.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid also painted a grim picture ahead of the budget talks on Thursday. “The speaker just has a few days left to change his mind,” said Reid on the Senate floor. “But I have to be very honest... I don’t know timewise how it could happen now!”

Reid also likened Speaker John Boehner to a dictator and accused him of prioritizing his speakership position over his will to strike a debt deal.

And Reid may not be far off in his accusation that House members are acting in their own interest. As Nate Silver points out, the growing number of hyperpartisan districts does present a real risk that many House representatives could lose their seats in primary battles if they work with Democrats.

“Individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives,” writes Nate Silver. “Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.”

In other words, the cost of compromise may in fact be greater than the cost of partisan dysfunction to many House Republicans who are trying to appeal to their very partisan districts.

NBC News has learned that the president plans to make a "smaller offer" at the 3 pm meeting, but aides say they have been given no specifics on the plan. The rumored offer to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000, however, is not part the president's offer.

Should anything constructive emerge from the White House meeting today, Congressional leaders say they are poised to take action.

On a conference call Thursday afternoon, Speaker Boehner instructed House Republicans to return to Washington, ready to act on any bill passed by the Senate on Sunday evening.

And on the Senate floor Thursday, Harry Reid had some words of encouragement: “Anytime the speaker and the Republican leader come to the president and say, we’ve got a deal for you, the president’s door is always open. And mine is too.”