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Scrambling For the High Ground

The Wall Street Journal editors chide President Obama for allowing Nancy Pelosi to draft the stimulus bill, thereby forfeiting his claim to a new era of bipartisanship:

House Democrats proceeded to ignore all GOP suggestions as they wrote the bill, shedding tax cuts while piling on spending for every imaginable interest group. The bipartisan opposition reflects how much the Pelosi bill became a vehicle for partisan social policy rather than economic stimulus.

Genuine bipartisanship means compromises on policy, not photo-ops and hand shakes. The last two Democratic Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, also came to power with big Democratic majorities in Congress, veered far to the left on policy, and quickly came undone. To adapt White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s now famous line, a 70% approval rating is a terrible thing to waste on the ideas of Henry Waxman and Pete Stark.

There was, it seems, a good deal of miscalculation involved. The White House team bet Nancy Pelosi would come up with a bill that passed the smell test. They bet the Republicans, after a shellacking on Election Day, wouldn’t have the nerve to stand up to the President no matter what was in it. And they bet the public would support anything the President did. As it turned out, they were wrong on all three counts.

As to the first, the White House should have seen that Pelosi owes the President very little. She came to power before him and is secure for years to come. Her bigger concern is the Old Bulls of the House who want the interest groups repaid and their own power expanded. So she crafted a bill to satisfy the political needs of her Democratic caucus, not the President. After all, what’s he going to do — veto his own stimulus plan?

Then the President assumed that, like the media and country at large, the Republicans would swoon at his very appearance. He could go up to Capitol Hill, peel off some votes and claim the bill was bipartisan. Well, that didn’t work. House Republicans aren’t easily charmed, and even if they were, they aren’t going to forfeit an opportunity to re-establish their political identity and stand up against a bill this bad. (It’s rare that good politics and policy overlap this completely.)

And finally, the public likes this bill less and less, the more it learns about it. Rasmussen shows the public only narrowly supporting the bill ( 42-39%). That is, in large part, due to the rather fair media coverage of what’s in the bill. Sure the media is ga-ga over the President, but they have been telling the public about all the junk in the bill.

We can see by the accommodating language employed by Joe Biden (who has the worst poker face in politics) that the White House is scrambling to improve the bill and recover the high ground. That’s a very positive development. And then word comes that the Senate’s “Gang of 14″ may be back to rework the bill. It seems Democrat Ben Nelson doesn’t know how many Democrats would support the bill as it currently stands.

If the White House can admit error and work with the Senate to refashion the bill we’ll all be better off. And the Republicans can claim a good measure of the credit.



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