As we should expect from all players in this standoff there's an element of playing to the bleachers. But what's unmistakable in this case is some level of genuine bewilderment. Boehner and Co expect and are accustomed to President Obama kicking off negotiations with an opening offer that seems like something the two sides might eventually agree to after a lot of hard negotiating -- and then going a little further in the Republicans' direction. In other words, they're used to an opening gambit that goes something like 70% or 75% toward the Republican position.
Only now President Obama's proposal is basically what he just ran on in his successful reelection campaign. And it's got Boehner et al. flummoxed. (Adding to Boehner's agida no doubt is the fact that he probably couldn't deliver House Republicans for any deal.) This turn of events has left Boehner in the comical position of declaring negotiations at a stalmate without yet having said what his party's position even is. They won't present a counter-offer because in a real sense they don't have one.
It's an open question to me how much of this is the significantly increased leverage President Obama now has versus learning from painful experience of Republican bad faith or what we might call Lucy-yanking. Administration officials say it's mainly the former while conceding it's some of the latter too.
Folks in the White House appear to have a serene certainty: upper income tax rates will go up. End of story. And the political terrain backs them up. In fact, they've already gone up. The current law is crystal clear. All the rates are going up. It's done. No one has to agree to anything. Boehner and the rest of them all voted for that a decade ago. The only question now is which if any will go back down. The White House says all but those for income over $250,000 should go back down. It's up to Boehner and House Republicans to decide whether they want to join that rate cut or oppose.
It's not hard to understand why one side looks calm and confident and the other is spluttering.