Learning On The Stimulus
Well, this certainly changes things.
President-elect Barack Obama's hopes of scoring significant bipartisan support for his stimulus package are fading, as the debate over the nearly $800-billion plan morphs into a classic Washington impasse: two rival parties in irreconcilable conflict.
Obama had hoped to induce Republicans to back his plan by putting forward a series of business tax cuts. But GOP support is peeling off as the party crafts alternative ideas that rely even more heavily on tax reductions.
Obama's stimulus package is on track to pass before the Presidents Day recess in mid-February. But it is increasingly doubtful that he will pick up the 80 Senate votes he had hoped to win in the first major legislative test of his presidency. Instead, the bill is likely to pass on the strength of the Democrats' majority.
Republicans probably made the calculation that falling in line behind the President would not help them down the road if the plan ultimately failed. Keeping their distance would allow them to blame the Democrats for that failure. Not to mention the fact that their ideology of "tax cuts in a boom, tax cuts in a bust, tax cuts whenever" prevents them from accepting the mere concept of a fiscal stimulus. The plans they're drafting are all across-the-board tax cuts.
In addition, these efforts to woo Republicans ultimately alienated Democrats, and thus far Obama has been willing to accommodate members of his own party and dial back things like the tax cuts for businesses. The stimulus has grown in size, and the percentage devoted to tax cuts has dipped. Obama has moved in the Democrats' direction by about $75 billion dollars.
I hope Obama's people learn something from this, and I trust they have. Republicans are committed to opposing a popular plan (extremely popular - 80-85% support job creation on various initiatives like energy and infrastructure) for nakedly ideological reasons. At this point, their support is going to be meager at best. Ultimately, this could be a very good lesson. Obama extended the hand of friendship and it was rebuffed. He can now take the high road and move the bill even further in the direction of job creation. After all, he tried. And he can take that message right to the people.
Still, Obama is taking no chances. On Friday he will visit a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Bedford Heights, Ohio, to make the case for his plan.
If the lesson from this is that bipartisanship is nothing more than a nice theory, that will be very valuable in the future.