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But senior House and Senate aides in both parties speculated that Obama would pitch his compromise in Thursday’s meeting in an effort to set a more conciliatory tone for the future. And a senior Democratic aide predicted that with Obama’s offer will come a message to Republicans about his limits on compromising: “The minute your GOP crazies start sending me bills to eliminate the income tax or abolish the Department of Education, I will start buying spare ink cartridges for the veto pen.”
Beyond the tax cut tussle, Hill leaders will be looking to Obama for guidance on competing priorities for the lame duck, including a resolution to keep the government funded, action on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and potentially controversial votes on repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the DREAM Act. The president has yet to signal how strongly he will push for action on the latter two items, which are top priorities for his political base.
More than anything, however, aides say party leaders will be looking to Obama to set the tone for how to proceed, particularly because Thursday will be the first time they will all be together since Democrats took a beating in the midterm elections.
“I think this is really a feeling-out process where everyone is trying to determine who’s willing to give where,” a senior House GOP aide said.
“Republicans are emboldened by the results of the midterms. The Democrats are trying to take a stand and re-establish themselves. The White House is caught somewhere in between,” the aide said.
But bipartisanship will take more than Obama calling for it, as evidenced by aides to both parties already saying that any legislative successes in the lame duck — and over the next two years — will be incumbent on the other party taking a more conciliatory attitude.
“The White House meeting is an important test for Republicans,” a House Democratic leadership aide said. “They need to start showing they want to get real things done and not just play to their base by saying they will not compromise.”
Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, countered that Democrats should use the meeting to show a willingness to change course in their agenda if they expect GOP cooperation.
“We think the American public made it clear they want us to focus on helping to create jobs by stopping all of the tax hikes, cutting spending and repealing and replacing the job-killing health care law,” Steel said. “We hope Democrats are ready to work with us on these priorities.”
A senior Senate Republican aide suggested that Obama needs to rethink his understanding of bipartisanship altogether, given how often he used the word as he presided over an intensely partisan Congress during the first two years of his presidency.
“For too long his take on bipartisanship has been ‘you agree with me.’ That attitude didn’t yield very positive results or popular legislation,” the aide said.