March 13, 2013

President Obama is scheduled to meet with Republican leaders this afternoon, presumably to discuss the dueling budget proposals introduced by House Republicans and Senate Democrats. This is part of his ongoing “charm offensive”—his attempt to build new relationships with Republicans in an effort to craft and pass an alternative to the sequester, and to make progress on other policies.

Participants have been enthusiastic about the meetings, but there’s little sign of progress. As NBC News notes, Obama’s dinner with Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn yielded little more than a hold on Senate Dem legislation to continue funding the government that doesn’t reduce the deficit entirely the way Republicans want — through spending cuts and no new revenues. Meanwhile, Obama’s lunch with Paul Ryan did nothing to stop the House Budget Committee chairman from releasing an extreme and regressive “roadmap” with deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other social services, as well as full repeal of Obamacare and hefty tax cuts for upper-income earners.

All of this is to say that poor relations aren’t the obstacle to breaking gridlock in Washington. Rather, the obstacle to compromise is that the GOP remains an anti-tax, anti-government party that shows no signs of changing.

There isn’t a Republican figure on the national stage who — in the last four years — has endorsed any kind of serious tax increase. Moreover, with control of the House — and use of the filibuster in the Senate — it has the power to enforce its preferences.

Look at the first two years of the Obama administration. In a period of eighteen months, Obama signed three of the most far-reaching pieces of domestic legislation since the Great Society. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act rescued the economy, saved the auto industry, and jump started American manufacturing. Yhe Affordable Care Act will set the stage for the transformation of American health care. And Dodd-Frank is a major overhaul of our financial regulations. Yes, Obama’s relationships played a role in passing each piece of legislation, but more important than that was who held power in Washington. Democrats controlled Congress, and at the end of the day, could muscle through its agenda.

Unless Republicans make a radical shift in their position, it’s highly unlikely they’ll agree to any new revenues, regardless of their source. The only sure way to break Washington gridlock is for one side to muscle over the other. If Democrats sharply limit the filibuster or if Republicans take the Senate next year, then we’ll see a change. Barring that, we should expect the status quo to endure.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.