Suddenly, Republicans would be able to vote to cut taxes on the vast majority of Americans. And they would not have to raise taxes on anyone because the new, higher rate on the wealthy would already be the law.
Much has been written about how this scenario would strengthen Obama's negotiating hand.
Less remarked upon, however, is the likelihood that the same scenario would let scores of Republican lawmakers off the political hook. They could honestly tell their constituents they never voted to raise tax rates on anyone.
John Feehery, who was a top aide to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said a breach of the Dec. 31 deadline is likely and useful. Lawmakers "should agree to disagree for the rest of the year, and then agree to agree early in the new year," Feehery said. "It's far easier to cut taxes than raise taxes. And if they wait until next year, they can make that happen fairly quickly."
Kingston, who has held GOP leadership posts in the past, said simply allowing the higher, Clinton-era tax rates to take effect in January is not sustainable for either party politically.
"But it keeps our guys from having to vote for a tax increase," Kingston said, and a new tax law cutting most of those rates back could be enacted quickly.
Using the bureaucratic word for deep spending cuts, Kingston added: "We also get sequestration, which I don't think our side is fearful about. The military gets the brunt of it," he said, but its budgets have grown dramatically in recent years.
A substantial number of GOP lawmakers, however, strongly oppose deep military spending cuts.
Republicans' continued stand against higher tax rates for the wealthy bewilders some Democrats, who say last month's presidential election should have settled the matter. But most House Republicans come from districts where they won re-election easily, and Obama lost to Mitt Romney.
The only realistic way these GOP lawmakers can lose future elections is by being ousted in a Republican primary by a hard-right challenger who vows to be even less compromising with Democrats. Their instincts for self-preservation are stronger than their inclinations to protect the Republican Party's overall image.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican who was among the first to join the tea party caucus in 2010, said the idea that reaching a compromise will be easier after Jan. 1 is "certainly being discussed over breakfasts and lunches and dinners" in Washington.
"Some people don't believe the fiscal cliff is going to be as bad as what they say," he said, referring to economists and administration officials.
Westmoreland said he opposes any tax increase "until we stop spending." He said he might support higher government revenues if they are packaged with serious spending cuts.
"That's a lot to ask for" between now and Dec. 31, he said.