Barack Obama and his team of advisers have framed the process of crafting a stimulus package as one that will be inclusive and bipartisan in nature.
But in private and increasingly in public, Democrats are scoffing at some of the demands of their Republican brethren. Elections have consequences, the refrain goes. The GOP can expect consultation and input, but anything beyond that is gravy.
"I do believe that Barack Obama campaigned last year on this certain kind of economic relief that we will give to working men and women," Congressman James Clyburn told the Huffington Post. "This proposal that [Republicans in House] are coming forward with right now is the same proposal that they took out to the American people before last November. The American people voted for Barack Obama. So that would indicate to me that we ought to be doing what Barack Obama proposed, because it was ratified by the vote. This is one of those philosophical differences that exist between us and them; and we won."
Such remarks reflect an emerging attitude among Democrats that Obama should not deviate much, if any, from his recovery plan proposal in order to accommodate the opposition. The president himself, in a meeting with House and Senate GOP and Democratic officials Friday morning, defended his position by noting, succinctly: "I won."
And yet, if political sternness was the tone of the morning, by Friday afternoon aides to Obama were playing up points of agreement. Robert Gibbs, addressing reporters for the second time in his brief tenure, beat down repeated questions about the rocky path to bipartisan compromise.
"The President is serious about doing this in a bipartisan way," he told the throng of reporters. "Again, I think that one of the things we have to stress is that there was a lot of agreement in that room this morning. Some tendency is to cover things that we disagree on. I think there's -- there should also be a tendency to cover what is agreed upon."
There was, to Gibb's credit, an tad bit of overemphasis on the potential for a political clash. NBC's Chuck Todd posed a rather hard-to-imagine hypothetical of Obama vetoing a stimulus bill that didn't have enough Republican support. But the differences between the political parties are starting to crystallize -- mainly in the House and not the Senate.
Earlier in the day, the House Republicans introduced a draft of what they wanted to see in any recovery package that included reductions in tax rates for poor and middle class Americans and the termination of a tax on unemployment insurance. It was somewhat of an inverse political universe, with the GOP positioning itself as the champions of the poor and working class, albeit by wielding their favorite tool: tax cuts.
Clyburn, for one, saw politics at play.
"Yes I do," he said. "And what I'd note is that John McCain's number one economic adviser has looked at this program and said the way the House [Democrats] proposed it is the way we ought to do it ... It just so happens that John McCain's economic adviser is not running for anything. He is trying to get the economy back straight. These people, who are running for things, are posturing politically and are not discussing this from a standpoint of getting the economy back up and running. They are discussing this from a standpoint of how to score political points."
Republican economic analysts don't have quite as perverse an interpretation. It is smart politics, they say, but also a bit of policy vigor from a party that has been dormant in that department.
"It's a mixed bag. On the one hand, Republicans are showing a few signs of intellectual life and political smarts here," said Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute. "If you really want stimulus, better to put money permanently in the hands of people quickly to spend or save, rather than try a massive government spending program that will take time to get going and then may fizzle out ... The flaw in the GOP proposal is that a large portion of Americans -- I think it may be nearly half of employed households now -- pay little or no income taxes at all any more because rates and thresholds and exemptions were lowered so much in previous GOP tax cuts under Bush, etc. This is not necessarily a good thing: everyone should pay *some" share in supporting the general government. And in many cases people pay more in payroll tax than in federal income tax, so that's where the most bang for the buck would be in terms of cutting taxes."
In the end, Hayward notes, there is little to no chance that the Obama administration will consider the House GOP alternative. In part because of an policy commitment towards government spending rather than additional tax cuts -- Senate Democrats slapped the president's wrist on this front already. But mainly because the Obama team holds the vast majority of cards in the deck.
"I don't understand what they are talking about when they say they haven't been included," said Clyburn. "We had a joint meeting two weeks ago and they were there. We had a joint meeting today ... What are they talking about that they aren't involved? They didn't win the election but they think we have to adopt their approach? They can't do that."