PRESIDENT George W. Bush started the trend and President Barack Obama has pushed it to its inevitable conclusion: The end of the regular, open-ended, free-wheeling White House press conference that goes back to the days when reporters -- sometimes several times a week -- gathered around FDR's desk.
Wednesday's press conference was Obama's first since March, and it featured a limited number of questions assigned to preselected reporters. His target audience was not the reporters, or even the country, but the congressional Republicans with whom he must soon reach some kind of accord on taxes.
Saying the situation is solvable, Obama proposed the immediate extension of all the tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of the year except the top rate, followed by a comprehensive agreement in 2013 to overhaul the tax code and the government's big benefits programs, which include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Laying down an optimistic timetable, he said Congress could pass that tax law this week or next, "And I'll bring everyone in to sign it right away so we can give the folks some certainty before the holiday season."
The National Retail Federation later in the day urged lawmakers to come up with a plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" by Thanksgiving, saying uncertainty threatens consumer confidence during the all-important holiday shopping season that begins on Black Friday.
The consensus is that doing nothing would be ruinous to the economy, and Wall Street is already showing early signs of the jitters. But House Speaker John Boehner returned from the seven-week congressional recess suggesting a possible compromise: While Republicans were unalterably opposed to increases in tax rates, they did favor increases in tax revenues.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, part of the Democratic leadership team, told the Associated Press that "many Republicans believe now is the time to sit down and talk more revenue." Durbin said the number of GOP lawmakers in the Senate willing to work toward accommodation now totals 20, but that "there is a great distance" between Republicans in the House and Senate.
The most direct way to raise revenues, barring an unforeseen economic boon, is to clean up the tax loopholes, exemptions and preferences in the tax code.
If Obama, Boehner and Senate Democrats can end their stalemate when talks begin this week and reach an agreement, all the other pending year-end legislation -- including a farm bill -- could fall quickly into place.
The odds may be against it, but the old year could end and the New Year begin on a high note. There are such things as holiday miracles.