‘DECOUPLING’ GOING NOWHERE FAST…. The White House is making no secret of its willingness to strike a deal on Bush-era tax rates. It’s built around the “decoupling” idea we talked about the other day. The problem, not surprisingly, remains congressional Republicans.

We started with two competing approaches — extend the Bush tax rates or let them expire on schedule (as GOP officials designed them to). Dems offered a compromise — make permanent the lower rates for families making less than $250,000 a year, while allowing Clinton-era rates to return for the wealthy. Republicans said that deal wasn’t good enough.

So now we have a new compromise — make permanent the lower rates for the middle and lower classes, and extend all of the breaks for the wealthy for a year or two.

The White House isn’t just whispering about the compromise; officials are being quite open about their willingness to make the deal.

Republicans are thrilled, right? Wrong. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was asked yesterday whether he sees any room for compromise with the White House. “No, I don’t,” he replied. Other GOP officials are saying the same thing.

It does not bode well for future talks. As Greg Sargent explained, the deal the White House is offering is already a capitulation.

There is a way a one-year or two-year temporary extension could represent a compromise of sorts: If Republicans signal a willingness to at least entertain the idea of letting the high end cuts expire after that temporary extension. But many of them aren’t doing that. Their position is that the high-end cuts need to be made permanent. Full stop. And that’s fine: That’s their position. It’s understandable that they would stick to it.

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of “compromise” is a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions.” But it’s unclear what Republicans would be conceding here. If they aren’t willing to signal genuine openness to a discussion about letting the high end cuts expire later — a fair line of inquiry for reporters — a temporary extension is merely kicking the can down the road. It’s doing it the Republicans’ way for now, on the understanding that we’ll have this same conversation again in one or two years.

Yes, even some Democrats support this approach, on the grounds that it’s the only conceivable way to ensure that the tax cuts continue for those under $250,000. It’s true that this may be the only way to get that done. And Dem leaders ultimately may end up going along. But let’s not call it a compromise.

Well said.

I’d just add, by the way, that the rationale behind the Republican strategy is fear. If Obama gets the middle-class tax rates now, Republicans would be forced to fight for an unpopular tax-cut plan that primarily benefits millionaires and billionaires later. They’d expect to lose, and they’d be right.

We’re left with an unshakable GOP position: the permanent extension of the entirety of Bush’s failed tax policy. No exceptions.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.