In the great spending battles of 2011, Republicans are betting big, while Democrats are betting small.
It's not just the different scope of budget cuts favored by the two parties that define their differences -- though it's worth noting that House GOP leaders are trying to cut $100 billion out of this year's budget before turning their attention to next year's even deeper cuts.
The way the parties are framing those cuts is what sets them apart -- in distinctions that will reverberate well into 2012.
Both parties face cross-pressures inside their own coalitions that will drive them further apart, zapping prospects for bipartisan cooperation on taxing and spending priorities. It all just might lead to a scenario where a government shutdown is possible.
To Republicans, the zeal to cut spending stems from the election results of last fall. They are calculating that voters will focus on the big numbers in their proposed cuts in judging the GOP against its campaign rhetoric, and hope that putting more on the table will draw praise from a public that dislikes government spending.
To Democrats, the fiscal and economic challenges are no less real, but the solutions could hardly be more different. Their hope is that the Republican push to cut spending will remind voters of the critical services government programs provide, and that cutting too deeply will make Republicans seem out of touch with a struggling electorate.
President Obama is positioning himself to take advantage of both strains. The budget proposal he's set to unveil Monday will trim government spending, and even take on some programs Democrats have traditionally help sacrosanct -- Pell grants, heating assistance for the poor, housing grants to cities and towns.
But the president's mantra is "cut and grow," not just cut. The White House is pushing to retain and even expand major investments in education, job training, and infrastructure -- areas where the president can expect major fights with Republicans over priorities.
Roughly a third of the proposed savings he's outlining would come from tax increases, notwithstanding the new GOP majority in the House that's vowing to resist anything of the sort.
The Obama budget proposal doesn't pretend to erase the deficit over the long term, and makes no real effort to rein in the huge entitlement programs that represent the more acute challenges.
"Social Security is a separate issue," the president's budget director, Jack Lew, said on CNN today.
The president's budget proposal, as it always does, moves on to Congress. House leaders are readying their 2011 cuts before moving on to address 2012 in a manner that will bear little resemblance to the document unveiled this week by the White House.
The historic gains by the GOP in Congress last year wiped away some traditional timidity in advocating budget cuts. Activism spurred by the tea party set has pushed leadership further in the direction of eliminating areas of government spending.
"There's no limit to the amount of money that our members want to cut," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
It makes for a scenario where the two parties are talking past each other on spending, laying down markers for the next election cycle even as they tangle over the fundamental issue of what government should be doing and how.
It's a battle that comes to a head over the next few weeks, with funding for the government set to expire in early March unless there is some action from Congress.
That means inevitable talk about a possible government shutdown. Neither party sees any real incentive in a replay of the events in 1995, where a new GOP majority's battles with a Democratic president brought about massive furloughs of federal workers and suspensions of major services.
But as Democrats are quick to note, it's a prospect that Republican leaders are pointedly not taking off the table as a possibility.
The fact that leaders of the two parties are starting the discussion speaking different political languages doesn't bode well for the potential outcomes.