While Democrats plan to hold a vote this week on extensions for only earnings under $250,000, Republicans have signaled a willingness to vote "no," sprinting to the finish line of in two years of mostly united GOP opposition to Democratic efforts.
Obama, meanwhile, is seen as willing to bend on the tax cuts after saying in his post-midterm press conference that "my goal is to make sure we don't have a huge spike in taxes for middle class families," signaling a prioritization of that extension over the promise not to extend the lower tax rates on higher earnings.
Given the GOP's calls for fiscal discipline and Obama's recent proposal of a federal wage freeze, there appears to be more room for compromise on matters of deficit reduction, although the wide panning of the suggestions offered by Obama's fiscal commission offer little hope in this department.
The 2010 midterms will weigh heavily on this meeting, as it is interpreted by the media and the public, and in the discussions that unfold at the White House.
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell write, in a joint Washington Post op-ed this morning, that the meeting will serve as a chance for the midterm message to sink in:
When congressional leaders of both parties meet at the White House today, all of us will have an opportunity to show the American people that we got the message of the elections earlier this month.
The parties have taken different messages from the midterms. Republicans have claimed that American voters chose a GOP House majority because President Obama's policies are far too liberal; the president has said the midterms were mostly a referendum on the economy. Both sides have recognized shades of the other's stated interpretation (and everyone agrees Washington should focus on jobs), but those views will come into immediate conflict beginning today.
This meeting offers several chances to both the president and congressional leaders of both parties.
One is to set a better tone. The president and Republicans have both said that voters want Washington to work together and get things done; today's meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate a willingness to do that.
Perhaps cutting against that incentive is this stark fact: the 2012 election cycle is underway, and today's meeting marks the beginning of two years of political posturing as the GOP attempts to make itself look good, make the president look bad, and hopefully retake the White House after only one term of a Democratic president.
Whatever tone is struck inside the White House, the political stakes of the meeting are clearly laid out.