Washington Matters


Stimulus: Bipartisanship Is Hard to Do


While most of the media pundits were pondering the Tom Daschle fiasco yesterday, the stimulus bill ran into all sorts of trouble, with Republicans fighting Democrats, Democrats fighting each other and the Obama administration trying to keep everyone's eye on the ball.

All of that is good news.

The stimulus bill that passed the House last week was put together too hastily, with too many Democrats turning it into a Christmas tree for spending on favored causes, too many Republicans harping on the same old tax-cut strategy and too few people remembering that the goal is to give the economy a quick shot in the arm without making the debt burden on our grandchildren any bigger than absolutely necessary.

So it's good that the Senate is slowing the whole process down and that some serious negotiations are beginning. Most of the credit for that actually goes to President Obama, despite the negative punditry on how his GOP outreach failed and how he's been sending mixed messages on ethics reform. Admit it, though -- there's something refreshing about a president who can acknowledge that he screwed up (as long as he doesn't keep screwing up).

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The House passed the stimulus bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted because -- well, because that's what the House does. Even Obama didn't like it, according to Rep. Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat who voted against it with tacit White House approval. A group of about 20 centrists in the Senate, including more Democrats than Republicans, don't like it either, and Obama is meeting with some of them today to talk about slicing out some of the spending that won't stimulate. Good for them. The bill needs to be smaller.

But Obama is determined to resist the same-old, same-old Republican ideas about more tax cuts, including one cleverly disguised as a reduction in mortgage rates. Good for him. It wouldn't really boost the housing market. And even proponents of tax cuts acknowledge that many others proposed by the GOP will do little to actually help the economy.

Obama, though, is walking a fine line...trying to compromise without appearing weak so that the demands for changes in the bill keep getting ratcheted up. And he now has the additional problem of convincing Pelosi that she has to compromise with the Senate, a move she's finding hard to swallow. Last night a meeting between House and Senate leaders became so raucous that top White House aides were summoned to mediate. 

Obama is serious about bipartisanship, but mostly he's serious about fixing the economy. As he said in interviews yesterday, that's the only goal that matters. He's always said he'll accept any good idea no matter the source, and there's growing evidence he's willing to do that. But he then has to persuade enough Republicans and Democrats to go along. And the public has to help him by putting pressure on lawmakers to be smart and reasonable.

There's still a long way to go, but I hope they succeed. The economy depends on it.




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