The endgame of a grand budget deal is not difficult to determine. Obama would get his rate increases, perhaps on earners making $500,000 a year or more, along with a variety of loophole closings for the wealthy. Republicans would get modest structural reforms of Medicare — perhaps adjusting the eligibility age, increasing means testing and putting limits on “medigap” policies. And Medicaid could move toward a per-capita cap on the federal portion for non-disabled people — an idea supported by governors of both parties.

If Obama really wants long-term fiscal stability that will reassure markets and encourage investment and growth, he needs the leverage of Republicans pushing for entitlement reform within budget negotiations. If he merely wants to fund unsustainable federal commitments for a few more years through higher taxes on the wealthy, he will try to steamroll Republicans on rates. So far, he seems to be taking the latter course.