The stakes over President Obama's new plan to revive the economy and create jobs grew higher yesterday after a spat between the White House and Republicans over the timing of his speech to set out his proposals – a row that banishes any naive belief in an outbreak of bipartisan sweetness and light when lawmakers return next week.
The squabble began when the White House wrote to John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, asking permission for the President to address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday. Normally such a request, involving one of Washington's great set piece occasions, would be granted automatically. Not, however, in the current bitterly polarised climate on Capitol Hill.
Within less than an hour Mr Boehner had sent his reply: no. Ostensibly the reason cited was a series of already scheduled votes, all of them, however, on the most inconsequential subjects. The real reason was that the time selected by Mr Obama coincided with the next Republican presidential debate.
The White House insisted that was just an accident, but Republicans instantly spoke of a deliberate ploy by Democratics to distract attention from the debate – the first to feature the new heavyweight in the race, the outspoken Texas governor Rick Perry.
Mr Obama's aides agreed to Mr Boehner's suggestion to postpone the address to Thursday. That evening, however, could see even stronger competition for the president: the nationally televised opening game of the new NFL season, featuring defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers.
Mr Obama has again given the impression of backing down in the face of Republican demands and opened himself to accusations of playing party politics with a great state occasion – and of the very partisanship that produced last month's debt ceiling debacle.