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Thursday, February 5, 2009

stimulous drama

I've been sickly and don't have the energy to put anything clever together concerning this stimulus mess, but here are a bunch of random quotes for perspective. (and don't ask how that's different from anything else I post!)

If nothing else watch TPM's daily recap:

And if you've been slacking (hey, it happens) and haven't kept up to speed with this particular debate you may be wondering, "why do we need to spend a gazillion dollars on a bunch of random crap?" It's a perfectly reasonable question, to which Robert Reich provides a perfectly reasonable answer.

Ed Kilgore (this morning):

In the course of about 48 hours, the conventional wisdom about the likely fate of the economic stimulus packagage has undergone a remarkable change from guarded optimism to quasi-panic. In a semi-ironic reference to the rapidly shifting winds, Mike Madden did a post at Salon yesterday entitled: "Stimulus Bill Not Dead Yet."

I've never quite seen so much of a mood-shift based on, well, a mood-shift. Obama's not perceived as doing well because people are saying that Obama's not perceived as doing well. This is the sort of self-proliferating cycle of negative perceptions that can develop a ferocious energy, but can also dissipate rapidly in the fact of real-life events.

Ed Kilgore (this afternoon):

Anybody trying to follow what's happening in the Senate on the stimulus package today is having a bad case of vertigo. The big news yesterday seemed to be that Senate Dems didn't have the votes to enact the stimulus legislation that was reported out of its committees, and that was roughly similar to what the House enacted. As a result, a self-designated group of "centrists"--apparently five GOPers and up to 15 Democrats--had convened under the leadership of Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to agree on modifications of the package that would reduce its cost and/or eliminate objectionable "pork."

Now today, even as details of the Nelson-Collins "agreed-to-cuts" leaks out (TPM seems to have the first copy), Harry Reid has dramatically announced that he has the votes to cut off debate and enact a bill. The question, of course, is "what bill?"

Joe Klein:

Some form of stimulus will pass. If it doesn't revive the economy, then more stimulus will be passed. Obama's maintaining the proper balance of reaching out to Republicans, making some compromises, but staying firm on the need for a bill that includes public works as well as tax cuts. A Republican Senator, a vocal opponent of the bill, told me the other day: "The guy has really impressed us. We may not vote for the bill, and he may have to learn that you have to give us more than he wants to give us to make us happy, but he's made a really strong start that will work to his benefit down the road."

At a time when the economy seems to be falling off a cliff, Republican politicians cannot come up with anything but the very same policies they have advocated year in, year out, in good times and bad -- and have enacted, with results that we can see around us. They show no signs of being interested in figuring out what will actually help the country, at least in any sense that involves canvassing the views of people outside their own echo chamber. They show no interest in any sort of compromise.

I'm glad Obama reached out to them. It was the right thing to do, both morally and tactically. But there are limits. And we have reached them. If there are enough votes to defeat a filibuster in the Senate, well and good. If not, Harry Reid should do one of two things: (a) reintroduce the bill under reconciliation rules, which do not allow filibusters, or (b) force any Republicans who want to filibuster the bill to actually stand up in the Senate chamber and talk.

If the Senate Republicans want to hold the American economy hostage to their idiotic ideas, they should at least have to suffer some sort of inconvenience for it. It would be much better, though, just to defeat them

Michael Hirsh:

The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama's worst fears, turning "crisis into a catastrophe," as the president said Wednesday.

Obama's desire to begin a "post-partisan" era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be "temporary" and "targeted"—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts that will prompt immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.


I think the administration thought they could be mediators between the two parties rather than leaders of the Democratic party. That just won't work, particularly when the Democrats aren't very good at battling the Republicans in close combat and the Republicans can make those who stay above the fray seem lightweight and insubstantial, which is what they've managed to do.

Ryan Avent:

A changed tone in Washington, if costless, would be a wonderful thing. But voters put Obama and Democratic majorities into office in order to get results. If Obama chooses to embrace Republicans even as they actively work against the interests of the vast majority of Americans, then we have to question his judgment. It takes two to change the tone. Republicans aren't interested, and they're using his overtures to undermine the American economy and the Obama presidency. Obama's mandate is his to deploy or squander, and the speed with which he has lost control of the storyline on stimulus suggests that he has miscalculated in figuring how much magnanimity that mandate affords him.

Theda Skocpol

In response to what you are saying: Obama is, sadly, much to blame for giving the Republicans so much leverage. He defined the challenge as biparitsanship not saving the U.S. economy. Right now, he has only one chance to re-set this deteriorating debate: He needs to give a major speech on the economy, explain to Americans what is happening and what must be done. People will, as of now, still listen to him -- and what else is his political capital for?

Speaking as a strong Obama supporter who put my energies and money into it, I am now very disillusioned with him. He spent the last two weeks empowering Republicans -- including negotiating with them to get more into Senate and his administration and giving them virtual veto-power over his agenda -- and also spending time on his personal cool-guy image (as in interview before the Super Bowl). The country is in danger and he ran for president to solve this crisis in a socially inclusionary way. He should be fighting on that front all the time with all his energies -- and he certainly should give a major speech to help educate the public and shape the agenda. That is the least he can and should do. Only that will bypass the media-conserative dynamic that is now in charge.

Josh Marshall:

Behind all the back and forth over the Stimulus Bill is a simple fact: the debate in Washington is rapidly moving away from any recognition that the US economy -- and the global economy, for that matter -- is in free-fall. The range of outcomes stretches from severe recession to something closer to a replay of the Great Depression, though that label is perhaps better seen as a placeholder for 'catastrophic economic collapse' since the underlying place of the US economy in the world economy is very different from what it was in 1929. This reality was palpable in the political debate until as recently as a few weeks ago. But Republicans are using a strategy of conscious denial to push it off the stage.

Take stock of the last few weeks and you can almost visualize the two conversations -- path toward economic calamity and debate over Stimulus Bill -- diverging.

The other key into the current debate is that the Republican position is ominously similar to their position on global warming or, for that matter, evolution. The discussion of what to do on the Democratic side tracks more or less with textbook macroeconomics, while Republican argument track either with tax cut monomania or rhetorical claptrap intended to confuse. It's true that macro-economics doesn't make controlled experiments possible. And economists can't speak to these issues with certainty. But in most areas of our lives, when faced with dire potential consequences, we put our stock with scientific or professional consensus where it exists, as it does here. Only in cases where it goes against Republican political interests or economic interests of money-backers do we prefer the schemes of yahoos and cranks to people who study the stuff for a living.

Of course, at some level, why would Republicans be trying to drive the country off a cliff? Well, not pretty to say, but they see it in their political interests. Yes, the DeMints and Coburns just don't believe in government at all or have genuinely held if crankish economic views. But a successful Stimulus Bill would be devastating politically for the Republican party. And they know it. If the GOP successfully bottles this up or kills it with a death of a thousand cuts, Democrats will have a good argument amongst themselves that Republicans were responsible for creating the carnage that followed. But the satisfaction will have to be amongst themselves since as a political matter it will be irrelevant. The public will be entirely within its rights to blame Democrats for any failure of government action that happened while Democrats held the White House and sizable majorities in both houses of Congress.

Obama: Mr. Nice Guy

Jonathan Zasloff suggests going in the opposite direction

Sam Stein at HuffPo spoke to ("nearly apoplectic") staffers who put the stimulus bill together.

Harold Meyerson says we've had this debate before, in 1932.

E.J. Dionne Jr.:

For most of the debate, Obama has cast himself as a benevolent referee overseeing a sprawling and untidy legislative process to which he would eventually bring order. He urged Democrats to knock out small spending measures that had caused public relations problems while doing little to defend the overall package or to reply to its Republican critics.

In the meantime, those critics have been relentless, often casting logic aside to reframe the debate from a practical concern over how to rescue the economy to an ideological dispute about government spending.

"This plan is a spending plan; it's not a stimulus plan," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), ignoring the truth that stimulus plans -- including Republican proposals to put more money into resolving the housing crisis -- by definition include significant new spending.

And Republicans who in one breath say they want more tax cuts declare in the next that they are against the tax cuts Obama has proposed.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said of Obama's $500 refundable tax credit: "Calling a rebate to people who don't pay income taxes a tax cut doesn't make it a tax cut." Presumably Kyl doesn't consider as taxes the payroll taxes (or, for that matter, sales taxes) paid disproportionately by low- and middle-income Americans.

But such volleys have gone largely unreturned, and the biggest danger for Obama will come if Republican attacks erode support for the stimulus among Democrats. That's why the president will be spending more time with congressional Democrats in the coming days. The administration's visionary emphasis on winning expansive Republican support has been replaced by a down-to-earth struggle to get a bill through the Senate.

Its hopes rest in part on a different form of bipartisanship. If Washington Republicans have decided to build a wall of opposition to the stimulus, Republican governors and mayors are eager for the money Obama wants to give them.

Thus will Obama and his allies be touting strong support for the stimulus from the Republican governors of California, Connecticut, Florida and Vermont. Mayors will be called upon to move House Republicans still open to persuasion.

In just two weeks, the elation of Inauguration Day has given way to a classic form of partisan hardball.

Oh yeah, and Obama himself wrote an op-ed on the matter

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