In his most polite, professorial manner, the President tonight challenged Congressional Republicans to put up or shut up in helping him save the American economy.
He spent most of his first news conference translating the stimulus bill from the language of Washington into that of Elkhart, Indiana, where he held a town hall earlier in the day, talking over the heads of Congress to the American people. But when asked "what you're going to have to do to get more bipartisanship," Obama had a clear message for the GOP:
“Old habits are hard to break. And we’re coming off of an election and I think people want to sort of test the limits of what they can get.
"(T)here's a lot of jockeying in this town, and a lot of 'who's up and who's down,' and positioning for the next election...(T)his is one of those times where we've got to put that kind of behavior aside, because the American people can't afford it. The people in Elkhart can't afford it. The single mom who's trying to figure out how to keep her house can't afford it.
"And whether we're Democrats or Republicans, surely there's got to be some capacity for us to work together, not agree on everything, but at least set aside small differences to get things done...to break out of some of the ideological rigidity and gridlock that we've been carrying around for too long."
Translation: The President has reached the point where his attempts at give and take have met with almost total Republican refusal to sign on to the stimulus, preferring instead to position themselves for 2010 and claim they resisted expensive efforts to turn the economy around in their campaign to recover control of Congress.
Now that the battle lines are so clearly drawn, the Administration knows that this will be a Democratic program and has to concentrate on placating their own House members in conference by shaping a bill more in line with their version than the compromises made in the Senate to win three GOP votes to reach sixty.
When the final vote comes, the Senate so-called moderates--Specter, Collins and Snowe--will then have to answer the President's quiet ultimatum by serving their party's long-term future or abandoning it to the Rush Limbaugh us-against-them wing.
By staking his mandate on it tonight, the President should have his stimulus bill to sign next week.