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Sunday, February 1, 2009


Last week's big news was that despite Obama's going all out to win Republican support for his stimulus bill, adding in tax cuts and cutting out funding for STD prevention that made Republicans feel icky, the stimulus still managed to attract exactly zero Republican votes.

So what to make of it? Reactions follow...


Dylan Mathews

There's no economic argument - none - to be made for business tax cuts as a stimulus component. When Marty Feldstein and Joe Stiglitz agree on an element of fiscal policy, there's really no controversy within the profession on the matter. The only reason to include them was to curry favor with Republicans in Congress and get a wider margin of victory. Obama liked this logic, so the business tax cuts stayed. And they bought him a grand total of 0 Republican House votes, with eleven Democratic defections thrown in for good measure. Bipartisanship fail.

This stimulus will still pass in the end, and it's probably better to get something through fast than to repeat the fight in order to get a better deal. But I hope that Obama is taking away the right lesson from this. He tried cooperating. He reached out to John Boehner and Eric Cantor, even though he didn't need their support. And they screwed him. They had their choice between having an input into policy and becoming irrelevant, and they decided they'd rather be irrelevant. So here's hoping Obama helps them stay that way.


Amanda Marcotte:

As you could have predicted, the benefit gained to Democrats for letting Republicans whine and cajole until crucial items were rewritten in the bill was.....shit. The song and dance did not get a single Republican vote, and 11 Democrats also voted against the bill. The lesson should be simple---Republicans are lying when they pretend to object to this small bit or that, and concessions offered to get their votes will equal knives planted firmly in your back. Despite this lesson, I guarantee that Republicans will be able to whine and cry until more concessions are granted in the Senate, at what point none of them will vote for the economic stimulus package. After years of being told to shove it up their ass, you'd think Democrats would enjoy the opportunity to tell Republicans to shove it up their ass, but that's not going to happen, I guess.

Here is the blunt reality: Republicans will gladly fuck over this country and ruin the lives of each and every one of you if they think that they'll get some political advantage from it. They can't be dealt with like reasonable people.


Chris Bowers:

Cool. While we will need two Republican votes to pass the stimulus through the Senate, I'm glad no Republicans supported it in the House. Not only does it offer a clear contrast between the parties, not only does it give good reason to re-write the legislation without any concessions to Republicans when the bill is reworked in conference, but it puts a quick end to the "bi-partisan" charade of the last few days.

As demonstrated on so many occasions, most recently by the 95% drop in Republican support for TARP, almost all Republicans in Congress are bad faith actors. You can't compromise or appeal to people whose motives are simply to oppose you, rather than to actually stand for any principles or values (except, I guess, the principle of opposing you). The sooner congressional Republicans make their purely contrarian motives clear, as they have done in this case, the sooner we can move on to just passing good legislation. Let's drop futile attempts to appease those who caused our problems in the first place, and stay focused on cleaning up the mess they left.



I'm glad it passed. I'm also glad that Obama tried as hard as he did to get bipartisan support, and I don't think that the fact that he didn't get it shows that the attempt was misguided. There are good reasons to try for bipartisan support regardless of how likely you think you are to succeed.

If you do succeed, then both parties have some ownership of the stimulus bill, neither will be as eager to politicize it, and it will be harder for either to use it to beat up the other. This is good. If you try hard, and publicly, to attract Republican support, but fail, then Republicans look like intransigent ideologues who would rather try to score political points than actually deal with the serious problems the country faces. You, by contrast, look reasonable: you tried to reach out, but your efforts were rejected.



It would be stupid for Republicans to try and obstruct the bill, but there's no political reason for them to support it. Democrats have the votes to do pretty much whatever they please. So it's best to lay out a competing agenda (i.e. more tax cuts for the rich!) and then use those distinctions to start building their new messaging. Worst case scenario for Republicans, the stimulus works and they're toast in 2010 anyway. Best case, the stimulus does little to help the nation's economic recovery, and they can play the "change" card next election.


Matthew Yglesias

I would imagine the crude calculus is something like this. In 1993-94 the GOP minority relentlessly sought to obstruct a new president's legislative agenda and were rewarded with a big electoral win in 1994. In 2001-2002 the Democratic minority relentlessly sought to compromise with a new president's legislative agenda and were rewarded with a big electoral defeat in 2002. Simplistic lesson is that there's no upside to cooperation.

The lesson I would hope the administration learns here is this: He needs to spend less time seeking political cover to mitigate the downside to possible policy failure, and more time trying to implement the best policies he can.


Josh Marshall:

I hear a lot of talk about whether Obama's governing approach can be 'bipartisan' if a good number of Republicans don't vote for his Stimulus Bill. But that dubious point seems to be obscuring a more obvious and telling reality: the Republican leadership in both houses has decided that it's in their political interest to oppose the Stimulus Bill no matter what.

In the most cynical of evaluations, it's not clear to me that they're incorrect. If the stimulus is judged a success, their political gain from adding more votes to what will be seen as Obama's bill will not be that great. So they're figuring that only failure will work for them politically; and they judge that they want Obama to own it entirely.



If I were advising the Republicans I would've told them to vote against the stimulus package. I would tell them to make the point clearly that if they were in charge, the bill would be a different bill. They're a competing political party and they need to, you know, highlight the fact that their vision for America is actually different. I appreciate that members of both parties don't always toe the line completely, but on a bill as big as this it makes perfect sense for it to play out as it did.

Of course the flip side is that Dems should've pushed the best plan that could pass the Senate instead of pushing some pointless fantasy about bipartisanship.


Glenn Greenwald:

Republicans aren't interested in "bipartisanship" except to the extent that they can force Democrats to enact their policies even though they have only a small minority thanks to being so forcefully rejected by the citizenry. And why should they be interested in bipartisanship? Why should they vote for a stimulus package that they don't support and that is anathema to what their most ardent supporters believe? It's very hard to find any virtuous attribute of the contemporary Republican Party, but one thing that can be said for them is that -- unlike Democrats, whose overarching desire in life is to please the needy harmony fetishists by adopting as many GOP views as possible -- Republicans are willing to incur criticisms by opposing what they oppose and supporting what they support.


Nate Silver:

But does it do the [Republican] party as a whole any good for having opposed the bill unanimously? With headlines like the one in the Associated Press, it's hard to imagine so. Their unanimous opposition reads as an emphatic rejection of the President and the President's attempts at "bipartisanship". And the President is very popular right now.



The rejection of bipartisanship by the Republicans should be perceived in terms of their long term strategy. They know that the depression has just begun. The worse is yet to come. How bad will it be? Far worse than anyone so far has imagined, and we've all imagined it as pretty bad. It will exceed our most extreme fantasies. (In fact, my father, who turns 100 next month (!) said this is shaping up as much worse than the thirties; I think he may be right.) The GOP knows that no feasible stimulus plan, no matter how large or well-crafted, can avert catastrophe. They intend to refuse to go along with anything Obama proposes, wait until disaster hits,and then - counting on the country's short memory span as well as the complicity of the media - blame Obama, Democrats, and liberalism for destroying the economy.

Obama also knows that economic disaster cannot be avoided and that it will be far worse than anything anyone alive - other than centenarians like my Dad - has ever seen; that's why his inaugural address was so grim. He also knows that no stimulus plan will work. And he knows he will be blamed for it when the misery adds up. Therefore, he is trying like hell to get the GOP to sign up, at least partially, for his proposal so he can spread the blame, This is after all, a time-honored political tactic, used by Bush, for example, to claim bipartisan authorization for the invasion of Iraq.

Since the GOP won't ever play - they're not stupid about their self-interest, after all - what is to be done? First, like Duncan, I think the Obama administration must propose the most responsible stimulus package they can, focused entirely on serious efforts to prop up the economy rather than appeasing the Republicans' special interests. Furthermore, they must propose legislation that protects as much as possible the middle class and the poor from the economic tsunami the Bush administration unleashed on this country and that has only begun to be felt. It may not work in staving off an economic collapse, but the crash will be so bad that any amelioration of its effects will be useful.

Naturally, Obama needs to take the high road and continue to call for "bipartisanship." But, as the GOP continuously refuses to go along, the Democratic party, and progressives, must attack on two fronts. First, they must accuse the GOP of lack of patriotism, of refusing to support the president in a time of extreme crisis. Second, they must never, not for a single news cycle, let the country forget that a Republican president, and a Republican legislature is to blame for the dreadful shape of the US economy.

Remember: as Limbaugh said, Republicans want the president and his policies to fail. Their refusal, to a person, to vote for the stimulus bill demonstrates that they expect the worst to happen no matter what is done. They intend fully to exploit that. Remember Carter's "maliaise" and Reagan's "morning in America?" Republicans see a repeat of that dynamic, but this time on steroids. That is why we must never let the country forget who wrecked the economy: George W. Bush, his Republican enablers in Congress, and the literally bankrupt philosophy of conservatism.


Clive Crook:

One of the things the country likes best about its new president is his taste for consensus. Barack Obama campaigned as a moderate, open to the views of people who disagree with him. His appointments seem to reflect the same attitude: He has chosen mostly centrists, including many veterans of the Clinton administration, with other viewpoints represented too. In planning his fiscal stimulus, Obama made a point of reaching out to Republicans in Congress. This attitude is widely admired, but one must ask whether Obama's preference for moderation, accommodation, and consensus is what these times require.

The economy's plight is extreme. Bold and unusual remedies are needed. This necessary radicalism, if you want to call it that, is not straightforwardly partisan, to be sure. This is not a matter of listening to one particular faction and ignoring everybody else. But at the same time, you cannot get to the right policy merely by trending to the middle and splitting differences between Democrats and Republicans.


Ryan @ The Bellows:

We are, for the most part, avoiding past policy mistakes. Monetary policy remains close to as easy as it can be, and Democrats are pressing ahead with a stimulus plan that will be large enough to have an effect. Credit markets continue to thaw. The crucial task of shaping up the banking system remains, and remains difficult, but Obama has convened an extremely talented group of economists to address the problem. Things can still go wrong, but we could be doing far worse.

The important thing to remember is that conditions will continue to look bad, even as we make progress. Many of us have never seen a recession like this, and we will watch in (understandable) dismay as unemployment rates continue to rise through (in all likelihood) all of 2009. That is unavoidable. We have sustained a massive financial shock, and a massive, subsequent shock to global demand. Try as we might, things will get worse before they get better.

But so long as we remain calm and avoid doing anything stupid — like starting trade wars, or deciding we need to balance the budget right this moment — we'll make it through this. But as I think about the House vote on stimulus, I have to breathe a sigh of relief that November went as it did. This is a serious time, and there's only one serious party in Washington.


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