WASHINGTON -- For Senate Democrats, the surest sign the party is on the brink of handing significant concessions to Republicans is that Democrats are so clearly winning the struggle.
"We are so totally, completely winning this thing that naturally it means we're gonna cave, right? I mean they're [the Republicans] getting hammered," a Democratic Senate aide said. "So when are we going to give them what they want?"
A Senate Democratic leadership aide, who has been buoyed throughout the showdown by the toughness displayed by the president, said he was getting signals that the White House is going soft.
"I do fear the White House is up to something bad. [Obama] says over and over, 'I won't negotiate,' but we know he loves to cave," the aide said. The willingness of the Democratic sources to comment -- though without direct attribution -- is a sign of the growing tensions between Senate Democrats and the White House as the showdown enters its final stage.
But another White House official refuted the anonymous Democratic comments. "One of the rituals of these fiscal showdowns is the practice of some anonymous Senate staff[er] suggesting that the White House is getting soft," the official said. "It's not been true before and it's not true now. It's too bad, but it's staff behavior we've come to expect and learned to ignore."
Congressional Republicans were dragged by tea party elements into the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff without an exit strategy, or even a list of winnable concessions, as both sides acknowledged the president was not going to undermine his signature achievement, Obamacare.
Republicans in the House and Senate have been scrambling for a way out as polls show public opinion squarely blaming the GOP for the shutdown, and Obamacare actually increasing in popularity. At the same time, the Republican Party brand has ebbed to record lows.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pressed his party not to offer concessions. He argued that the weight of public opinion and the lack of sustainability of the Republicans' position will cause them to buckle, ending the pattern of short-term, manufactured crises that has consumed Washington and spooked global markets.
On Saturday, the Senate will vote on a one-year extension of the debt ceiling. House Republicans have proposed six weeks, which the president indicated was acceptable.