(NECN/NBC News: Steve Handelsman) - Just days before Barack Obama is to be sworn in to a second term as president, house Republicans floated a startling plan: to cut off the paychecks of House and Senate members unless Obama and his Democrats agree by April to deeply cut spending.
It's a headline-grabbing move just two days before the inauguration.
This gets some of the focus back on the Republicans and spending in this town that has been talking more about gun control and preparing for the Obama inaugural.
Washington is almost ready: Massive security barriers are going into place and there are bleachers along Pennsylvania Avenue for Monday's inaugural parade.
And, of course, there’s the presidential viewing stand, bulletproof and fancy, rebuilt every four years.
But since a huge crowd, full of hope, saw the first Obama swearing-in, America has lowered its expectations.
Only 35 percent of those participating in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the country is headed in the right direction.
As Obama's new portrait is released, his approval stands at 52 percent, his likeability at 61 percent. But only 29 percent say he's working effectively with Congress.
And on Friday, there was more conflict.
Responding to the president's declaration that he won't negotiate over the debt ceiling, Republicans backed down. They'd raise the borrowing limit, but just for three months. And if Democrats don't agree to a budget of deep spending cuts by April, they'd cut off lawmakers' paychecks.
“Why should the American public pay elected officials if they don't do their fundamental right to pass a budget?” asked Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.).
Since Richard Nixon resigned, second terms have had negative starts.
"It's been a long time since we've seen a positive define a second term,” said Democratic pollster Peter hart.
The Bush second term was plagued by Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. The Clinton second term, by scandal and impeachment. Now, amid the preparation for celebration, the new Obama term starts with budget confrontation.
But the White House tried to look on the bright side, calling it "encouraging" that Republicans are backing off holding the economy hostage to get drastic cuts in programs like Medicare.