Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Putting meaningless compromise over "doing what works"

Barack Obama wants to change the status quo. He won the election on a promise to unite the country, to end the era of red and blue states, and most of all against partisanship. He garnered plenty of republican support during the election (insanely impressive for a black guy whose middle name is Hussein), and there are plenty of people out there who believe in his message, and are willing to put aside partisanship for the sake of change. That's great, but he needs to remember that republicans (the people) may have embraced him and helped approval ratings into the 70s, but the Republicans in congress are a very different animal.

The debate over the stimulus started with Barack pushing a bill that while large in size, didn't dedicate much of the money to things that will actually stimulate the economy. There were good things in the bill, but there were also huge amounts of money devoted to tax cuts, and relatively small amounts dedicated to transportation and infrastructure spending as a result. When talking about the stimulus plan, Barack has always said that he didn't care who said it, he just wanted to go with "what works". Well, here is what works, according to a chart that was even made up by a right leaning economist:
And from Obama's meeting with the republicans today, we KNOW he doesn't think they'll work:(a rough live transcript by some anonymous hero):
This is just the first step.
Says would love to not spend this money
Has no interest in increasing government just to increase the size of government.
But he talked to many economists who told him almost uniformly that they needed to get a stim bill up and running asap to avoid huge unemployment------------
So... We put together a package with direct spending and tax cuts.
Mentioned martin Feldstein.
Spending has a more simulative [sic] affect than tax credits.
For every dollar of direct spending, we get 1.5 dollars of stimulus
For every dollar of tax cuts, we get 75 cents of stimulus
So even Obama's economic team has told him they won't work, and and Obama doesn't think they'll work. So why waste a third of the money to tax cuts that won't stimulate the economy, you ask?

Well after electing a Democratic president with a wide margin and an overwhelmingly Democratic congress, for some reason it's always about pleasing republicans, and hoping they'll play nice:(Msnbc's first read and Digby's repsonse)
Looking For Bipartisanship Down The Road: Why does bipartisanship support for the stimulus matter? Let's get one thing straight: Obama's stimulus plan is going to pass Congress, and the vote won't be that close. But this isn't the goal this week -- or next. For Team Obama, it's about winning over Republicans. And for some on the left, this doesn't compute. After all, some might ask, "Who cares? The election just happened and voters overwhelmingly chose Democrats to run the government, both in the White House and in Congress." But what Obama needs is a Republican Party that isn't consistently confrontational, because he's going to be asking for some trickier bills, including more money for the financial industry, potentially support for nationalizing some parts of the banking industry, and a bunch of money to shore up the housing crisis. So while Obama doesn't need GOP support for stimulus, he wants the opposition to be against him in a way that he can win them over for more favors and -- most importantly -- prevent potential filibusters.
Right. Because it's in their best political interest to give Obama "favors."

They will cooperate if they get what they want and they won't if they don't. If Obama comes to them and says "we capitulated on your demands on the stumulus package a year ago, so now you need to fulfill your end of the bargain" they'll say "what bargain?" And that isn't something that just applies to Republicans. It's the way politics works. The idea that the Republicans will eschew a filibuster on, say, health care, because Obama gave them some extra tax cuts in the stimulus package is just absurd.
Obama seems to under the impression that the Republicans are negotiating out of good faith. The problem is they aren't. And they won't, no matter how many concessions you give them. They won't say it outright like he did, but there is no doubt that the majority of them agree when Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama to fail. Of course they do! If he fails, they have a shot to get back into power, this isn't rocket science. And if the bill fails to stimulate the economy, it's on Obama and the Democrats. No one will go back and see that it got 10 republican votes as opposed to 5. This is his bill, and it's in Obama's interest that it works.

So where are we now?

After Obama made the massive initial concessions to win Republican support, the Republicans still won't support the bill. As usual, Atrios says is it best:
Lucy And The Football

I am just shocked to discover that Republicans will vote against the bill which has been made shittier to please them.

Just shocked.
It's also even more frustrating when you think of how this could have gone down differently.

Instead of starting by preemptively appeasing Republicans with tons of tax cuts, why not aim high and write a progressive bill of similar size but only containing things that will actually stimulate the economy? When the republicans bitch about the bill (like they did even after the crappier compromise bill), you can compromise on minor stuff if you want, but no need to go crazy, people elected you because they didn't like how Republican economic policy crashed the economy. When they keep whining about the bill, kindly remind them that you won the election because of their policies, have a 70% approval rating, and if they don't want to get on board they can follow Thomas Friedman's advice and "Suck. On. This."

Again, this bill will pass regardless, there's no need to make it suck. You only need a vote or two in the senate, and there are few republicans running for re-election who won't want to look like they don't care about the economy no matter how much they hate what you're doing.

Then when the bill comes up, and the Republicans mostly vote against it (Surprise! This will happen with the appeasement bill too!), and you take ownership of the bill, and that's not a risk this time, because you got a bill that people agree will do the most to stimulate the economy.

I realize this will never happen because it would be to "partisan" and that would make it evil or something, but I still don't get it.

The thing that bothers me is that the political result of both plans would be fairly similar.

After a "partisan" stimulus plan, the Republicans would be mad at Obama, claim he's running up the deficit, making the economy worse and ruining the bipartisan climate. But at the same time he could rest assured that he did as much as possible to turn around the economy, the results of which will have a large say on how his presidency (and hopefully his second term) play out.

After the current plan passes, the Republicans will claim he's running up the deficit, making the economy worse, and ruining the bipartisan climate. But unlike before, he is on the hook for a shittier plan to stimulate the economy.

This isn't to say that the stimulus won't do good, it has good elements and any help is desperately needed. But this was a massive opportunity for progress that slipped through our fingers. We had the opportunity to aim big, and chose not to.

Barack is a very smart person and politician, and I'm pretty sure I understand what he's trying to do here. He ran on this type of bipartisan and inclusive government, and unlike so many politicians, he ACTUALLY means this stuff. We shouldn't expect anything different, and it is somewhat refreshing to watch a politician does what he says he will do. I just hope that he chooses his own words of "doing what works" over the "compromise for compromise sake" approach in the future.


  1. Maybe this is being done to provide the nation with a solid example of "republican bipartisanship." After it fails then he has an excuse to institute the barackracy, where anything with an R next to their name gets trodden under foot for the next 4/8 years!

    Crappy choice of which issue to make an example of, but that will make it pretty high-profile.

  2. I like the idea of a barackracy. No clue what it would even mean, but it just sounds cool.

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