Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stimulating Thoughts

Being President is hard. George Bush made darn sure you knew that during the 2004 election, but on the off chance you've either forgotten that election or made the conscious decision to wipe it from your mind, the debate over Barack Obama's $800+ billion stimulus package is a nice reminder.

On the one side, Obama's got a Nobel Prize winning economist repeatedly taking a piece of rebar to his kneecaps on the op-ed page of The New York Times because the package isn't big enough. (Hehehehe) On the other side, he's got an increasingly conservative Republican Party raising hell about every red cent of government spending in the bill. And he's not getting help from the media, which has given the anti-stimulus crowd ample time to air their grievances.

All of which is annoying enough for a standard-issue President, but it's doubly vexing for a man who ran on the idea of bi-partisan cooperation. He quite sincerely wants Republican votes for this bill. That might be for strictly political reasons, or it might be because he legitimately values the opposition's input, but regardless, he has assiduously courted their support.

Here's the thing: it hasn't worked. Obama and his partisans in the House made a number of concessions in an effort to win some GOP support. They threw in more than $300 billion in tax cuts, both as a sop to the Republicans and in order to fulfill some of Obama's campaign promises. They excised some of the "wasteful" spending in the bill, such as $200 million to repair the unimportant National Mall. They cut out the odious, burdensome $200 million that would have helped poor women purchase icky contraceptives.

And for all that, not a single Republican Congressman voted for the stimulus package. This is the reality Obama's facing. The newly elected head of the Republican National Committee praised his colleagues in the House for the "goose egg" they "laid on the President's desk." He has said that "no government in the history of mankind has ever created a job." The Republicans remaining in Washington are simply not inclined to get behind anything Obama proposes.

You could argue that the GOP's non-support in the House was pure obstructionism, a political middle finger raised in defiance at the new guy in the White House. But I'm inclined to be generous, and I think what we saw in the House was simply a dramatic manifestation of the philosophy that reigns in the party. These are deeply conservative men in deeply conservative districts, and they don't believe the federal government should spend money on anything beyond national defense and a big wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegals.

The Senate's a slightly different animal, in that there remains a core of moderate Republicans (Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, etc) who can be won over by the right stimulus bill. And theoretically Obama needs a couple of those names to reach a filibuster proof super-majority.

I get that Obama wants to be bi-partisan, and the Democrats absolutely should be prepared to compromise on some issues. But at some point you have to dig in your heels. If you don't, and you start selling for scrap the infrastructure spending and environmental friendly changes that form the very foundation of the bill, then you have to wonder what the point of being a Democrat is if you're not willing to act like one.

The Democrats have 58 votes. (Counting Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, and if Lieberman's not on board with this, someone really needs to stick Harry Reid in cryogenic stasis until future doctors come up with a way to surgically implant spines) You should be able to induce two Republicans to support a stimulus package containing large amounts of infrastructure spending and green improvements.

If you can't, if the GOP threatens a filibuster, then the answer should be simple: go ahead. Dare the Republicans to bottle up the "national recovery package" because they don't want to repair bridges and fill potholes. That will require some measure of message savvy, but not that much. Certainly not anything more than Obama's people have already displayed.

Reid needs to dare the GOP to actually filibuster the stimulus. Force them to make that decision. See if two of their number will crumble and vote for cloture and let the bill come up for debate. If they don't, then let Jim DeMint and Mitch McConnell stand on the floor of the United States Senate and expound on their anti-government philosophy.

You just won an election. The President recently pointed that out in one of his more eloquent moments: "I won." Act like it.

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