Both sides still say they want a bargain of some size, and they even agree on a few things. Members in both parties say the indiscriminate cuts mandated by the sequester are damaging the economy. And both want to rein in future spending on Medicare and Medicaid.
So in principle, it ought to be easy for Republicans and Democrats to agree to a swap: a smaller and more flexible sequester now in exchange for deeper cuts in health spending later.
But there's one more problem: Some Republicans have become fond of the sequester in its present unlovable form.
"A lot of members of Congress will publicly complain and moan about the sequester — and then privately say it's better that somebody else make the decisions," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was famous for arguing that politicians should never let a crisis go to waste. "It's an opportunity to do things that you thought you couldn't do before," he explained.
But thanks to the unexpected easing of the fiscal crisis, it looks as if we're about to do just that.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanuslatimes.com.