Democrats say the Republican plan is unfair to those who have the least. But the very language used by both sides reveals the underlying hubris that led to the shutdown in the first place.
Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, and congressional Democrats speak of Republican plans to "abolish" "eliminate" Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The president himself maintained that House Republicans, particularly the freshmen, "want to end the role of the federal government in our life."
That kind of hyperbole makes Republicans apoplectic. But they have used it, too, as in suggesting that Democrats alone have run up a $5 trillion national debt.
Mr. Cox worked in the Reagan White House in an administration that ran ads showing a cheerful mailman delivering Social
Security checks with 7.4 percent cost-of-living increases -- after Reagan-orchestrated tax cuts to boot -- at a time when budget deficits were beginning to explode.
In the 1990s, two elections have altered the landscape. The first was in 1992, when a Democrat won the White House. Mr. Gingrich argues that Mr. Clinton, who received only 43 percent ++ of the vote, misread that result if he thought he had a mandate to jump-start Democratic social programs.
Many moderate Democrats agreed with this analysis, and Mr. Clinton had trouble with his budgets from the start. This tension helped set up the second key election: the 1994 mid-terms. Republicans swept to control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Flush with victory, Mr. Gingrich held what amounted to an inauguration for himself. Then the Republicans began pushing the items on their "Contract with America," including a balanced budget plan, curbs on future Medicare spending, the end of Medicaid and welfare as entitlements, reduced environmental protection, and tax cuts.
But history repeated itself, some say. "The Republicans over-read their mandate," said John Emerson, a White House official. "Where does it say in the 'contract' that they want to drill for oil in the Arctic wilderness area?"
As the battles spilled into the fall, Democrats insisted that Republican plans would cut deeply into Medicare and hurt poor children in order to finance tax cuts for the rich. This rhetoric hit home with the public, and the White House watched with glee as Mr. Clinton's approval ratings rose.
Some Democrats, including Mr. Panetta, began talking openly about not having a budget.
In an interview, Mr. Gingrich lamented getting into "Washington fights and Washington language" battles with Mr. Clinton. "He'll always outpoint me," Mr. Gingrich said. "He's much faster than I am."
Last week, the stock market tumbled 100 points Monday. The bond market declined, too. Full-page ads by business leaders beseeched both sides to balance the budget.
Mr. Clinton struck a more conciliatory note and cited the markets as the reason.
But the time for easy compromise had gone. On Friday, talks between the president and leaders of Congress were put off until next Friday.
About the only thing both sides agree on is that while Mr. Clinton's use of the bully pulpit has helped boost his popularity, it has turned the Republicans against him, with ominous implications for the cause of compromise.