The conference negotiations on the stimulus package are going fast and could be done by mid-day, which obviously makes it hard to find the pressure points and apply them. Americans United For Change and AFSCME are running ads against recalcitrant Republicans, and they're pretty good, but obviously they're not the issue anymore. It's the Axis of Centrism still driving the negotiations.
In a sign of their determination to reconcile the differences between the Senate bill and the $820 billion House version swiftly, the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and the budget director, Peter R. Orszag, huddled at the Capitol on Tuesday evening with Speaker Nancy Pelosi; the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada; and other lawmakers.
Participants in the talks said they wanted to reduce the overall price to just under $800 billion.
The officials worked late into the night, with Mr. Reid shuttling between meetings with senators in his office and House leaders in Ms. Pelosi’s suite. Centrist senators who were crucial to the stimulus deal, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, Republicans of Maine, Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, returned around 9 p.m. for the talks and left about an hour later.
The group broke for the night shortly before 11:30 p.m. “We’re not there,” Mr. Reid said. “But we have made a significant amount of progress in the last 10 hours.”
You read that right, they want to make additional cuts from what the House and Senate passed. Why? Because a cut is a universal good, silly.
There are differing stories out there. The New York Times piece claims that the Senate cuts to Medicaid and COBRA would remain in the final bill, while the cuts to Obama's signature middle class tax cut would be restored. But the Wall Street Journal sees Obama seeking lots of spending restorations:
The White House is seeking to restore funding cut by the Senate for schools, health insurance and computerizing health records as the economic-stimulus plan heads for a final round of negotiations in Congress this week.
To make room for added spending, the White House, joined by House Democratic leaders, is pressing to scale back certain Senate-passed tax breaks, including ... an $11.5 billion proposal to give car buyers a tax deduction covering local sales taxes and interest on auto loans, and a $35 billion proposal to create a new tax credit for home purchases.
Clearly the home buyer tax credit is ridiculous. It will go mainly to people who were going to buy homes anyway, won't create new home construction, and will simply reinflate the bubble rather than stabilize home prices. Max Baucus said that the home buyer credit and the auto credit would probably be modified but not eliminated. Hopefully the cuts to programs like school construction, which Obama was consistently supported, will come back. However, the aid for state governments appears gone for good, which is a shame.
Obama's negotiating team insisted on restoring some lost funding for school construction projects as talks began Tuesday in hopes of striking a quick agreement, but by late in the day it appeared resigned to losing up to $40 billion in aid to state governments.
To the extent that Republicans are impacting this at all, they are making robocalls in Pennsylvania and Maine against the bill, trying to squeeze Specter, Collins and Snowe. And a separate GOP group is threatening primary campaigns against these three and anyone else who supports the bill. This is the typical way that Republicans try to maintain party discipline, and while it can occasionally work locally, it wasn't enough to beat Specter in a statewide primary six years ago.
But that doesn't matter. The Axis of Centrism sees reducing the effectiveness of the bill as an end in itself. They've already reduced it to a half-measure, and they're coming back for more. Did Obama's early emphasis on post-partisanship rather than browbeating Republicans into acceptance change this reality? I'm not really sure. The moderates seem to be goring this bill and liking it, and no matter Obama's pose he would still be constrained by the essential nature of getting something passed.
It's Susan Collins and Ben Nelson's world, we're just living in it.