For months, the effort to save the nation from a potentially calamitous plunge off the fiscal cliff appeared to be in the hands of President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, say David A. Fahrenthold and Ed O'Keefe at The Washington Post. Boehner, however, "didn't have enough political muscle to strike a bargain with the president," and Obama "was so intent on showing his muscle that he alienated the Republicans he was supposed to bargain with." In the end, it took Obama's "second fiddle" — Vice President Joe Biden — to hammer out a compromise deal with his longtime Senate colleague Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, and save the day. Farhrenthold and O'Keefe continue:

Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling. In both cases, Washington's new power players — Obama and the Tea-Party-infused House GOP — couldn't reach an agreement. They were saved by a bargain struck in Washington's oldest tradition, not much changed from the days of Henry Clay except the size of the dollar figures and the presence of a phone.

Two men, both with 20-plus years in the capital, working out the final touches alone.

It's no surprise that Biden swooped in to negotiate an 11th-hour solution, says Michael Hirsh at The Atlantic. The real question is why it took this long for him to emerge as "the president's point man on the latest round of fiscal talks." When Biden became Obama's No. 2, many Americans thought of him merely as an affable gaffe machine, but he has long since morphed into "one of the most powerful vice presidents in U.S. history." Hirsh continues:

It wasn't long ago that Biden's predecessor, Dick Cheney, was seen as the gold — some might say sulfurous — standard in vice presidential power. Biden himself, ironically enough, once described Cheney as "probably the most dangerous vice president we've had" because of what many observers saw as Cheney's undue influence over George W. Bush.

But in terms of the sheer number of issues Biden has influenced in a short time, the current vice president is bidding to surpass even Cheney. Fiscal issues and guns are only a small sampling of this vice president's portfolio. Back in 2010 it was Biden's office that, in the main, orchestrated the handover to the Iraqis. It is Biden's view of Afghanistan that has, bit by bit, come to dominate thinking inside the 2014 withdrawal plan. On financial reform it was Biden who prodded an indecisive Obama to embrace, at long last, Paul Volcker's idea of barring banks from risky trading, according to Austan Goolsbee, formerly the head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The VP also tilted the discussion in favor of a bailout of the Big Three auto companies, according to Jared Bernstein, Biden's former economic adviser.

Well, McConnell and Biden didn't work a miracle, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. They just "found the middle ground." And that's as much to McConnell's credit as Biden's. The GOP leader bent to Obama's insistence on letting tax rates rise for the rich, although he got Obama's $250,000 threshold moved up to $400,000. "McConnell also managed to snag some estate tax relief," pleasing his side. And in the end, the result says less about Biden than his boss.

By a vote of 89 to 8 to approve a fiscal deal, the Senate demonstrated that President Obama surely is the most incompetent if not counterproductive deal-maker in an era that requires a good one... In the future, why bother asking Obama about his views? He excels only at annoying the other side.

There's no denying that Biden makes Team Obama stronger, says Gail Russell Chaddock at The Christian Science Monitor. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined to counter the GOP's last offer on Saturday, McConnell said he needed a "dance partner," and Biden was his best option. "Unlike President Obama, Biden had spent 36 years in the Senate and is a seasoned negotiator." Obama played "tough cop" — "or, critics say, inept cop" — by taunting Republicans in a campaign-style event on Monday "as negotiations hung by a thread." That might ultimately scupper the deal, or it might be what made it possible. So far, though, it appears the Obama-Biden teamwork got results.