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As Obama Talks Of Bipartisanship, Definitions Vary

A top Republican called for more mortgage relief and additional tax cuts in President Barack Obama's massive economic stimulus package as Democrats conceded privately they will drop items that have drawn bipartisan criticism. Video by AP

But he added: "This can't be a one-way street. The president has done a lot to reach out. I think the American people will understand that message quite clear."

As Republicans see it, the main obstacle to Obama's call for greater cooperation is the Democratic congressional leadership.

"I think it may be time . . . for the president to kind of get ahold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House . . . and shake them a little bit and say, look, let's do this the right way," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) experienced the contrast between Obama's outreach and hardball Capitol Hill politics three days into the president's term.

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, had invited Hatch to his White House office, and 45 minutes into the meeting, an unexpected guest dropped by: Obama. He ushered Hatch to the Oval Office, where, a minute later, Vice President Biden, a longtime friend of Hatch's, joined them for a private chat.

"They know I'm somebody you can work with," Hatch said later.

But when Hatch returned to the Capitol, his mood turned. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had refiled a bill expanding children's health insurance in a form that differed from a bipartisan bill that Hatch co-authored in 2007 with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- the new bill included a controversial expansion of coverage for the children of legal immigrants.

Instead of cheering on the expansion of a program he helped create in 1997, Hatch spent the week trying to change the legislation, to little avail. The bill passed on Friday, with Hatch and all but nine Republicans opposing it.

"That's the perfect illustration, I think, of a lack of faith," Hatch said, calling the move on the legislation a "pure partisan" stunt.

Democrats on Capitol Hill laugh off the Republicans' accusations. "Being bipartisan does not mean having to lay down and say we'll do whatever you want," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters.

With slim majorities in 2007 and 2008, Democrats practically shut down the committee process and often drafted key legislation behind closed doors in leadership suites. Once legislation was brought to the floor in the House and Senate, Democratic leaders often shut off the debate process and set up rules that did not allow GOP alternatives to be considered.

Since the 2008 elections, when Democrats expanded their numbers to 257 in the House and at least 58 in the Senate, they have loosened up their restraints. For the stimulus legislation, several House committees held public markups of the bill, which included some minor alterations offered by Republicans. On the floor, 11 amendments were considered and the GOP offered its own alternative, which focused on tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

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