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Obama and the GOP: Once Bitten, Twice Shy?

Generic Obama John Boehner Mitch McConnell CBS/AP

Today is the day bipartisanship returns to Washington. Or not. The sun isn't shining today - in fact, the dreary rain in the nation's capital may be the ominous sign the country needs to realize maybe we all can't just get along.

Today's Obama-GOP leadership meeting at the White House will be the first time the President, along with top Congressional Democrats, sits down with the newly empowered Republicans: Incoming House Speaker John Boehner, leader of a stronger Republican minority in the Senate Mitch McConnell, and their top deputies.

The two GOP leaders laid down their agenda in an op-ed in today's Washington Post. "While Americans have been asking 'where are the jobs?' for more than two years, our friends across the aisle have clung for too long to the liberal wish list, including a job-killing health-care law, a 'cap-and-trade' national energy tax and an out-of-control spending spree. The November elections represented a wholesale rejection of these policies," they wrote.

And speaking to Politico, incoming House Majority Leader Republican Eric Cantor challenged Mr. Obama's policies even further: "Stop the policy agenda you've been about over the last 20 months, and let's go about seeing if we can return to a situation where we can see some [economic] growth prospects again," he told the paper.

Here's where the White House may be a little shy today -- while the Republicans are attacking their entire agenda as a "liberal wish list," the White House would defend each action as tackling a crisis - out of control health care spending, an outdated energy policy overly dependent on foreign oil and spending to jumpstart the economy. They'd also argue that there has been private sector job growth for a long stretch now, though they'd also admit it's not been enough.

The administration may also be shy to argue policy with their foes who don't seem to agree with the White House's identification of a crisis.

This debate is what Washington will be consumed with, or by, for the next two years. But today's meeting will focus on two immediate issues, the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, and ratification of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. This is what the White House wants to focus on - and at least on the latter issue, they'd like to see partisanship put aside for what they say is a much needed treaty. They fear that if the treaty doesn't get passed in the current Senate, the next Congress won't get around to it until it is too late, and the entire thing could be shelved.

On tax cuts, the Republicans are adamant that all the tax cuts be extended, saying the American people voted them into power to do so. The White House wants to extend only the middle class tax cuts, but may be open to compromise on the upper incomes for a limited period of time. According to many polls, most Americans want to see only the middle class tax cuts be extended.

And finally, when looking at today's meeting, the White House is going to have to get over being shy about talking about some of the nasty rhetoric slung from all sides. The White House says it has a thick skin, but that will be tested as the president meets face to face with a Senate minority leader who has already claimed that his party's top goal is to prevent a second Obama term. Will the gloves come off? Or will the sun break through the clouds and shine brightly on the White House lawn? The Washington forecast is for more rain today, but unlike this weekend's friendly basketball game, there's a good chance no one will need stitches.

Robert Hendin
Robert Hendin is a CBS News senior political producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here.
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