Donald Lambro

So with the Democrats divided and in disarray on Capitol Hill, and a significantly weakened White House sending confused and mixed messages about where it is headed next, GOP leaders decided this was not the best time for a meeting and cozy upstairs dinner with the president and Democratic leaders.

Obama needs this meeting more than they do. He was the one who promised to change the partisan tone in Washington, then led a sharply partisan attack on the Republicans in the final weeks of the midterm elections.

His economic stimulus schemes have been colossal and costly failures, and he and his party have run out of ideas about what to do next. Economic forecasters at the Fed and elsewhere see slower growth next year and beyond, and still the White House is calling for higher taxes on an anemic, jobless economy.

His trade trip to Asia, immediately after his policies and his party suffered a massive rebuke from the voters, was seen as a complete failure. He has refused to submit three negotiated trade agreements for ratification and done little to open up new markets for U.S. exports because of deep opposition from organized labor.

The White House suffered a further setback this week after Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican, said there was no time to consider the new START nuclear arms treaty in this lame-duck session. Obama needs 14 Republicans to reach the 67 votes for approval, and Kyl's decision gives the GOP the 14 that they needed to postpone action until next year.

So, this lame-duck session that made a mountain of unfinished budget bills is shaping up as an uncomfortable experience for Obama and his party. The biggest battle will be whether to extend all of the Bush tax cuts, as Republicans want, or raise the two top tax rates on businesses and employers while the U.S. economy is still struggling to lift itself out of this recession.

This will be Topic A between Obama and the Republicans when they meet on Nov. 30. The betting in this corner is that Obama will seek some kind of a temporary extension on the grounds that this is no time to be raising income taxes on anyone. But right now the House Republicans want a permanent extension.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.