Thursday, January 15, 2009

Well That Didn't Last Very Long-- Bipartisan Approach To Obama's Stimulus Package Crashes Into The Shoals Of GOP Partisanship And Extremist Ideology

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This morning's L.A. Times blares the grim tidings: Obama's Bipartisan Hopes For Stimulus Plan Fade. Reporters Peter Nicholas and Jim Puzzanghera predict that his package will pass "but with party differences apparently irreconcilable, it is unlikely to win the 80-vote Senate majority he envisions." That was quite the optimistic vision, especially for someone who has been a part of the Senate where vicious partisans and extremist ideologues like Jim DeMint (R-SC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Thune (R-SD), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Cornyn (R-TX) would rather see America fail than Obama-- or any Democrat or anyone else who represents the interest of ordinary American working families, succeed.

Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Obama's plans to rescue the country from the mess that Bush and his reactionary congressional allies have saddled us with. Bush may be gone, but the reactionary congressional allies are still in government and still more than capable of causing considerable damage to the country. In the linked Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, 63% of respondents thought government spending that would help create new jobs should be a priority, as opposed to the GOP position, which asks for more tax cuts (favored by 33% of respondents).
President-elect Barack Obama's hopes of scoring significant bipartisan support for his stimulus package are fading, as the debate over the nearly $800-billion plan morphs into a classic Washington impasse: two rival parties in irreconcilable conflict.

Obama had hoped to induce Republicans to back his plan by putting forward a series of business tax cuts. But GOP support is peeling off as the party crafts alternative ideas that rely even more heavily on tax reductions.

...House Republican leaders have set up a working group to draft their own stimulus proposal focusing on permanent, across-the-board tax relief. And the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 100 conservative House Republicans, unveiled a bill Wednesday that contains a series of tax cuts, including reducing all personal income tax rates by 5% and cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.

The president-elect's efforts to win over Republicans -- in keeping with a campaign promise to end Washington gridlock -- ignited a backlash within his own party. Obama has dedicated 40% of the package to tax reductions, divided evenly between business and middle-class tax cuts. But Democratic leaders are dissatisfied and want more focus on direct spending, less on tax relief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) told reporters Wednesday the package needed a single focus: "Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs."

"It must create jobs immediately, and it must contribute to the long-term stability of our economy to continue to create jobs," she said.

When you get stinkin' drunk and you wake up with a hangover, you may reach for a shot of whiskey. But the hair of "the dog that bit you" theory has always been wrong and has never cured anyone. Congressional Democrats and the American people know that and the last thing in the world we need are more dogmatic approaches to the economy based on the extreme right wing ideology that has taken our country to the brink of catastrophe-- and many families over the brink.

In today's Wall Street Journal one of the country's most perceptive and astute political analysts, Thomas Frank, has penned a powerful column, Obama Should Act Like He Won. It's well worth reading.
As we anxiously await the debut of the Obama administration, we hear more and more about the incoming president's "post-partisan" instincts. He has filled his cabinet with relics of the centrist Clinton years. He has engaged the evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. And according to Politico, he wants 80 Senate votes for his stimulus plan-- a goal that would mean winning a majority among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Centrism is something of a cult here in Washington, D.C., and a more specious superstition you never saw. Its adherents pretend to worship at the altar of the great American middle, but in fact they stick closely to a very particular view of events regardless of what the public says it wants.

And through it all, centrism bills itself as the most transgressive sort of exercise imaginable. Its partisans are "New Democrats," "Radical Centrists," clear-eyed believers in a "Third Way." The red-hot tepids, we might call them-- the jellybeans of steel.

The reason centrism finds an enthusiastic audience in Washington, I think, is because it appeals naturally to the Beltway journalistic mindset, with its professional prohibition against coming down solidly on one side or the other of any question. Splitting the difference is a way of life in this cynical town. To hear politicians insist that it is also the way of the statesman, I suspect, gives journalists a secret thrill.

Yet what the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he-- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done.

Here, for example, is centrist Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby, writing last October on the debate then raging over the role of deregulation in precipitating the financial crisis: "So blaming deregulation for the financial mess is misguided. But it is dangerous, too, because one of the big challenges for the next president will be to defend markets against the inevitable backlash that follows this crisis."

Got that? Criticizing deregulation is not merely wrong but "dangerous," virtually impermissible, since it problematizes the politics that everyone knows president 44 will ultimately embrace.
As this should remind us, the real-world function of Beltway centrism has not been to wage high-minded war against "both extremes" but to fight specifically against the economic and foreign policies of liberalism. Centrism's institutional triumphs have been won mainly if not entirely within the Democratic Party. Its greatest exponent, President Bill Clinton, persistently used his own movement as a foil in his great game of triangulation.

And centrism's achievements? Well, there's Nafta, which proved Democrats could stand up to labor. There's the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. There's the Iraq war resolution, approved by numerous Democrats in brave defiance of their party's left. Triumphs all.

Histories of conservatism's rise, on the other hand, often emphasize that movement's adherence to principle regardless of changing public attitudes. Conservatives pressed laissez-faire through good times and bad, soldiering on even in years when suggesting that America was a "center-right nation" would have made one an instant laughingstock.

And what happens when a strong-minded movement encounters a politician who acts as though the truth always lies halfway between his own followers and the other side? The dolorous annals of Clinton suggest an answer, in particular the chapters on Government Shutdown and Impeachment.


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