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Brimming with Legislative Disasters

It wasn’t too long ago that David Brooks told us Obama was “brimming” with new ideas. He had great ideas, smart notions for fixing what ails us, and they wouldn’t resemble the same old tired answers we’ve been given before. So much for that…. Now Brooks says that Obama is almost entirely deferring to Congress, a result of some sort of “post-traumatic distress syndrome” that has gripped Democrats since HillaryCare went belly up and convinced them to let Congress do everything. The result is a mix of unworkable and extreme legislation — the stimulus plan and cap-and-trade being the worst. Brooks concedes:

On the stimulus bill, the Democratic committee chairmen wrote a sprawling bill that incorporated the diverse wishes of hundreds of members and interest groups. But as they did so, the bill had less and less to do with stimulus. Only about 40 percent of the money in the bill was truly stimulative, and that money was not designed to be spent quickly. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 11 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus will be disbursed by the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed, but it is not doing much to create jobs this year and it will not do nearly as much as it could to create jobs in 2010.

On cap and trade, the House chairmen took a relatively clean though politically difficult idea — auctioning off pollution permits — and they transformed it into a morass of corporate giveaways that make the stimulus bill look parsimonious. Permits would now be given to well-connected companies. Utilities and agribusiness would be rolling in government-generated profits. Thousands of goodies were thrown into the 1,201-page bill to win votes.

The bill passed the House, but would it actually reduce emissions? It’s impossible to know.

Health care promises to be just as convoluted and expensive.

None of this represents a change from the way business is conducted in Washington. Perhaps it is only worse by degree given the unchecked power of one party rule. But none of this activity produces moderate, smart legislation — nothing resembling what Brooks and a legion of snookered pundits told us we could expect from Obama.

But let’s not blame this on Hillary. Goodness knows she’s responsible for a lot, but Obama’s governing style isn’t one that can be fairly laid at her door. Obama has never taken an interest in policy or legislative draftsmanship during his brief time in the Senate. On complicated, high stakes bills like the one addressing immigration, he simply played the dutiful part of Big Labor spoiler. So I think the lack of roll-up-the-sleeves leadership is more likely attributable to a lack of interest, skill, or ability rather than a general consensus that the president should stand by passively and watch Congress make legislative hash. (Sounds like the excuse for passivity in Iran, no? There is a method to paralysis, really!)

Brooks ignores the real drawback in all this: churning out a hodge-podge of hair-brained legislative schemes and spending us into oblivion is bad for the country. And the voters won’t like it. How “pragmatic” is that?