One possibility is the fiscal cliff takes effect and taxes go up in January, then Congress steps in to bring tax rates back down for at least some people -- allowing them to say they're lowering taxes, even if rates for top income brackets are higher in 2013 than they were in 2012.
Obama and Democrats have leverage, based on the president's re-election last month and Democrats' gains in the House and Senate in the new Congress. In addition, polls consistently show majority support for Obama's position on taxes, and Democrats insist the House would pass the president's plan with Democrats joined by some Republicans if Boehner allowed a vote on it.
However, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has vowed to back primary challenges against Republicans who violate his widely signed pledge not to raise taxes. Even if a deal is reached, Norquist predicts more budget showdowns every time the government needs additional money to operate.
The two sides seemingly had made progress early last week on forging a $2 trillion deficit reduction deal that included new revenue sought by Obama and spending cuts and entitlement changes desired by Boehner.
Boehner appeared to move on increased tax revenue, including higher rates on top income brackets and eliminating deductions and loopholes. But his inability to rally all House Republicans behind his plan raised questions about his role and what comes next.
All this has fueled disdain for politicians by many Americans. Such contempt is deserved, said Rep. Steven LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, who is retiring from Congress.
"I think America should be embarrassed by its leadership in D.C.," he told CNN on Friday. "The fact that we have been unable to do things, and instead worried about our next elections. ... I think it's sinful."