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Divide-and-Conquer Plan Put to the Test by Obama

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President Barack Obama is making waves with his first foray into triangulation — and so far, his strategy appears to be paying off.

After cutting a deal with Senate Republican leaders on an $858 billion tax package that drew protests from House Democrats, Obama scored another victory when more than 80 Senators voted Monday evening to proceed to a final vote on the plan.

And while the president’s strategy of edging out House Democrats in order to advance his agenda has triggered an assault from his left flank, senior Democratic aides are quietly accepting that his tack is a likely preview of how things will be in the 112th Congress.

“Obama is going to need significant Republican coordination and support to get anything done. Why would John Boehner [R-Ohio], the Speaker of the House, deal with the Minority Leader when they have more leverage with the White House?” a senior Senate Democratic aide asked.

“Some liberals will look at this as a betrayal. Some others will look at this as reality,” the aide said. “But I don’t think this is being done in a spiteful way by the administration.”

Obama has made passage of the tax package his No. 1 priority for the lame-duck session, and his two-pronged strategy for passing it has crystallized in recent days: Hurry the deal through the Senate and, in the meantime, wage a massive public campaign for its passage outside the Beltway to force House Democrats to vote “yes.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has reinforced that game plan for the past week, pointing to the White House releasing dozens of statements of support for the deal from mayors, governors, lawmakers and even President Bill Clinton, who praised it last week following a White House meeting with Obama. Obama also sat down Monday with regional reporters from Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Florida to tout the proposal.

“The notion that the view of some in Congress is monolithic to the viewpoint of every person in the party, I didn’t think that” even before recent polls showed Democratic support for passing the tax package, Gibbs said during a Monday briefing.

“I am not surprised by the polling that shows that a vast majority of people don’t want to see their taxes go up at the end of the year,” he said.

Under the package, the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts would be extended for two years for all Americans. The plan also extends unemployment insurance benefits for 13 months and cuts the payroll tax by 2 percent for one year.

One senior Democratic aide grumbled about the White House strategy of pitting House Democratic detractors against the general public.

“When has the mayor of Sheboygan ever moved a vote in the House, or the Senate for that matter?” the aide asked.

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