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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 Republicans say the Democrats' version of bipartisanship is superficial at best. For the concept to mean something, they say, it needs to involve Republicans earlier in the process, with bills hashed out at the committee level so that a bipartisan majority on the panel can pass out a measure and fight for it all the way to the president's desk. Otherwise, said Wamp, "it's like coming into the kitchen after the meal's been cooked and saying, 'Let's cook a meal.' "

Republicans also say that Democratic claims to graciousness are undermined by the aggressive ads that a coalition of left-leaning groups is running on behalf of the stimulus plan, targeting potentially vulnerable GOP senators.

Nicholas E. Calio, who served as President George W. Bush's legislative liaison, said it would be up to Obama to persuade congressional Democrats to open things up further if he wanted to fulfill the promise of his own "excellent job" of outreach. "Part of that process is for him to bring members of his own party along," Calio said.

Such talk sets off alarms among many Democrats, who do not understand why Obama and congressional leaders need to concede on major points after a big victory in November. Already, many Democrats are upset with the inclusion in the stimulus package of $24 billion in business tax breaks that many economists doubt will provide a significant boost to the economy and that will reward some of the companies, such as banks and home builders, that fueled the housing bubble.

Some Democrats worry that to prove his bipartisan credibility, Obama will make further major concessions in adding tax breaks or lowering the bill's spending to win 70 or 80 votes in the Senate instead of settling for a smaller majority made up almost entirely of members of his own party.

"They want to get Republican votes, but they're not going to get very many Republican votes," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "I'd rather forgo Republican votes and prevent a depression than get Republican votes at the cost of slowing the depression but not stopping a depression."

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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