Commentary Magazine


Enough Happy Talk

The notion of a bipartisan, pro-growth stimulus plan that could pay for some much needed infrastructure was appealing to many Americans. Even Republicans skeptical of the entire Keynesian premise were willing to go along with the deal if they could get some private sector help and some needed spending on national defense. But what has emerged from the clutches of Nancy Pelosi is a grab-bag of liberal special interest group goodies, welfare disguised as “tax relief” and precious little of long term value to the country.

Charles Krauthammer aptly termed it “one of the worst bills in galactic history.” He pans not just the content but the process:

I thought he once said we are not red states or blue states. We are the United States of America. We are not Republican or Democrat. Look, he won as the man who reaches across. But here is an example in which he says ‘I won, you lost. It’s my way.’ He listens, but unless he gives something, it’s all a sham.

It is no wonder that Republicans including John McCain and Minority Leader John Boehner are making clear they want no part of it. On Fox New Sunday, McCain declared:

There should be an end point to all of this spending. Say two years. . . The plan was written by the Democratic majority in the House primarily. So yeah, I think there has to be major rewrites, if we want to stimulate the economy.

He was clear that he “would not support it,” but was cagey on whether to filibuster it: “We need serious negotiations. We’re losing sight of what the stimulus is all about and that is job creation.” (If McCain blocked the spend-a-thon he might finally earn the affection of the conservative base.)

So what happened? President Obama entirely ceded control of the process to Pelosi, who proceeded to fill the bill with junk and exclude Republicans from the process. The Wall Street Journal concludes:

The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn’t really about the economy. It’s about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The “stimulus” is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith.

Apart from the inevitable waste, the Democrats are taking a big political gamble here. Congress and Mr. Obama are promoting this stimulus as the key to economic revival. Americans who know nothing about multipliers or neo-Keynesians expect it to work. The Federal Reserve is pushing trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus into the economy, and perhaps that along with a better bank rescue strategy will make the difference. But if spring and then summer arrive, and the economy is still in recession, Americans are going to start asking what they bought for that $355 billion.

And on a political level, the Democrats have given Republicans every reason to oppose the bill and no reason to support it. As a result the “bipartisan” stimulus will be the Democrats’ bill.

Could the bill be revised to cut out the junk and corral Republican votes? The longer this goes on and the more TV appearances Democrats make extolling the virtues of their spend-a-thon, the more difficult it becomes to reverse course. Perhaps this was what President Obama had in mind all along. Maybe all the talk about focused spending and bipartisanship was just fluffy rhetoric for the easily impressed media pundits. Or maybe this is a sign that President Obama lacks the tenacity and skill to go toe-to-toe with his own party.

The result is the same: a horrid bill and a failure to breach the partisan divide. A smartly designed bill which could garner bipartisan support seems increasingly out of reach.  It would have been nice to suspend disbelief for at least a week, but either by intention or neglect we now see that Washington may in fact be the place where good ideas go to die.