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Bipartisanship Didn’t Make It to the Weekend

The new era of bipartisanship isn’t going so well, the Washington Post tells us:

Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of “petty grievances,” President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $825 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

The GOP’s shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama’s first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote — little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.

The problem is not just the Democrats’ high-handed process that shuts out Republicans. The issue is that the bill itself is objectively awful. If you think tax cuts and defense spending are better ways to “jump start” the economy, there is precious little to like. But even if you accept the Democrats’ premise that we should have a bunch of “shovel ready” projects and immediate infusions of spending into the economy, the bill doesn’t do that either. The Congressional Budget Office tells us: “For example, of $30 billion in highway spending, less than $4 billion would occur over the next two years. Of $18.5 billion proposed for renewable energy, less than $3 billion would be spent by 2011. And of $14 billion for school construction, less than $7 billion would be spent in the first two years.”

As David Brooks writes:

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy. This would involve big, simple programs with immediate impact — a temporary cut in the payroll tax, big aid to the states, expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps.

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.

But the stimulus bill emerging in the House of Representatives does neither of these things. The bill marked up Wednesday in the Appropriations Committee is a muddled mixture of short-term stimulus haste and long-term spending commitments. It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.

I suspect that all that sweet talk about bipartisanship is going to be thrown overboard and this will be rammed through on essentially a party-line vote. The President met today with House Republicans, reminding them “I won.” It doesn’t sound like he is actually in the mood to alter the bill’s substance, although he will go through the motions of meeting with them again next week. Meanwhile, the House bill is moving swiftly along.

Now the process may have annoyed Republicans, but the content has appalled them. They are now on firm ideological grounds to oppose it en masse.

Then it will be up to the President. Does he sign this very old-school, hodgepodge of a bill?  Brooks declares, “He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk.” But if he does just that (after all, he said he liked the Democrats’ bill), then the economy will either get better on its own or it won’t get better at all.  If the economy doesn’t perk up, the Democrats will be alone in shouldering the blame. After all, Nancy Pelosi told us: “Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.” And now they’ve demonstrated what they will do when left to their own devices.