Hopes that Republican losses in November might revive a spirit of compromise are headed toward a cliff craggier than the one that's become the Washington metaphor of the year.
It's a mystery how tanking the economy again could be good for the GOP. But the stalemate over how to avert the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts now known as the fiscal cliff is clearly a crisis of the Republicans' making.
President Barack Obama has moved from his initial positions on taxes and cuts. The GOP has not budged. Short of a miracle, increased tax withholding for working Americans and a halt to unemployment benefits for 2 million others begin next week.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts that if no deal is reached on the major elements of the automatic cuts and taxes that Congress earlier put in place, the country will slip back into recession by June.
The nation desperately needs Republicans willing to engage in the back-and-forth that powers government instead of sabotaging it. Where are the rising stars who hope for a political future beyond their districts -- and who place their country above their ideological purity?
Where, for example, is Kevin McCarthy? The House majority whip from Bakersfield has courted the Bay Area's tech industry. Silicon Valley business leaders have been optimistic about his leadership. He could be a hero.
McCarthy worked hard to get House Speaker John Boehner's tax plan passed last week. The proposal was more of a poke in the eye to Obama than a compromise; it allowed tax increases only for those making more than $1 million a year -- but it still failed.
Boehner has thrown up his hands and left the deal-making to the Senate, which at least will return to Washington on Thursday, along with Obama. But there is little hope of progress in the Senate, which is only nominally controlled by Democrats.
With the absolute power of a filibuster threat still in his pocket, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has no incentive to deal. It's all the more reason for Majority Leader Harry Reid to change the filibuster rule, but he can't do that until January.
And if McConnell does make a deal now, the House would have to concur. Nothing is possible unless Boehner stands up to the far right fringe willing to accept fiscal disaster, and rational Republicans who can see beyond district lines need to help him do that. McCarthy and others like him should be working on this now, behind the scenes.
Obama said throughout his re-election campaign that taxes had to rise on Americans making more than $250,000 a year. He has increased that to $400,000. But Republicans resist asking even the richest Americans to return to the tax rates they paid during the wildly prosperous Clinton era.
The president can move only so far. He needs rational partners on the other side of the aisle.