WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS…. It’s not exactly a secret that congressional Republicans and the Obama White House have a difference of opinion when it comes to tax policy. By GOP design, Bush-era tax rates are set to expire — the president wants to keep the breaks for the middle class; Republicans want to protect breaks for the wealthy.

With the GOP holding middle-class cuts hostage, there’s an impasse. Obama doesn’t want to sign the Republican plan, and Republicans won’t let the Senate vote on the Democratic plan.

Hoping to find some kind of common ground, the president today assigned Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Jacob Lew to oversee a working group, talking with four members of Congress — one from each party in each chamber — to try to, as Obama put it, “break through this logjam.”

If we’re laying odds, it’s probably safe to assume the working group won’t make any progress. Greg Sargent talked to a senior Republican aide who shared some details on this morning’s discussion at the White House.

On the Bush tax cuts, Boehner agreed to a proposal from the President to create a working group to negotiate over the continuing standoff over how to proceed. […]

But the GOP aide says that in the meeting, Boehner made it clear to the President and Dems that he “believes this is no substitute for immediate action to cut spending and stop the coming tax hikes — for all taxpayers.”

Does anyone seriously believe Boehner is prepared to approach this working group with an open mind, and with an eye towards reaching a compromise? He knows what he wants, and he’ll accept nothing short of everything.

The same aide note that the president, talking about the nation’s fiscal challenges, urged GOP leaders to think about the problems in terms of short-term, medium-turn, and long-term problems. Republicans rejected the formulation, insisting that these issues must be addressed “right away.”

Anyone looking ahead with any modicum of optimism probably isn’t paying close enough attention.

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.