It is not surprising that a hugely popular Democratic president with large Democratic majorities pushed through a gigantic spending bill. But certain things are surprising in the extreme.
It was a surprise after all the soothing bipartisan rhetoric that the president chose not to include Republicans in the legislative process — or to include their ideas in the substance of the bill — in any meaningful way. It was a surprise that only three Republicans in the entire Congress voted for it, a political discipline and unity unheard of in modern times. (By contrast the barely elected George W. Bush got 28 Democratic House members and 12 Senators for his 2001 tax cut plan.) It was a surprise that the president deferred entirely to the House Democrats who showed so little inclination to actually focus their largess on short term, job enhancing activities.
The Washington Post, gets it a bit wrong, but belies the nervousness of the elite opinion makers:
White House officials predict the measure will create 3.5 million jobs over the next year and a half, easing the effects of the worst economic downturn in a generation.
Some private analysts said the slimmed-down measure is likely to fall well short of that goal, creating fewer than 2.5 million jobs and leaving the unemployment rate over 9 percent through 2010. They also caution that even if the package boosts economic activity, conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate unless the administration finds a way to thaw frozen credit markets and revive the paralyzed banking system.
(Actually the 3.5 million are saved or created, an entirely meaningless and unprovable calculation.)
And then it also was surprising that, to obtain what was in many ways a foregone conclusion, the president lost patience so soon with principled opposition and lost his “No blue states, no Red states,” inclusive rhetoric. And, finally, it was surprising he did not come close to his cap ($200,000? $250,000?) for tax relief promised in the campaign. (The final phase out number for the so-called Making Work Pay credit was $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples.)
Although not entirely surprising, it was at least remarkable that the process was as nontransparent as it was.
What matters in the end, however, will be the course of the economic recovery. So far the stimulus and the non-plan for a bank bailout have left the markets depressed. If you want to see economically literate people explain why the stimulus is an expensive and dangerous sideshow turn off the political news and watch a business channel (Geithner is the “Dan Quayle of economic policy . . . This is a clown show.”) There is a reason why the Dow is now below 7900, down from 9600 (almost 18%).
Ultimately all the spin in the world won’t change basic, observable facts. Does economic growth and employment bounce back in some reasonable time frame that can be attributed to the stimulus plan? Is the enormous deficit sustainable or will the consequences (slower growth as the CBO predicts and/or inflation) be worse than the cure? We are embarking on uncharted seas. It is understandable the president would have preferred to have political cover, but this is his economy now and he correctly observes that his presidency will in large part hinge on the results obtained.