I am only a little taken by surprise by the difficulties President Obama is having with his massive spending "stimulus" bill. Only a little, I say, because I was confident that, if he won, even with Democratic majorities, that he would not find he could pass anything he likes--contrary to the militant assertions of so many during the campaign.
Of course, he may get this bill; but if you were concerned about what a President Obama-cum-Democratic Congress would mean, you should be very encouraged by this. The President is about three weeks in, and one wonders how much of his agenda has he had to trade away in order to marshall votes for this bill? And it hasn't passed yet.
Today or tomorrow, the Senate is supposed to vote on the "compromise" made possible by weak-sister Republican members who can always be counted on to be by their phones, ready for blandishments sufficient to bring them oh-so-reluctantly before the cameras, to declare their noble intention to "bridge the gap" and "move us forward" blah, blah, blah. I really wonder if some of these characters don't get a little nervous, thinking about the terrible possibility it won't be them who gets to play the hero this time round, because that rat So-and-so will sell out for just a bit cheaper!
But don't get too worried. The bill appears to be tanking in public opinion polls, which is terrible news for Mr. Obama and the Democrats. They are increasingly pinning all their hopes on this one bill. That's a huge gamble.
Also, a wonderful feature of our Constitution is that both houses of Congress must pass identical legislation. What the Senate seems poised to endorse is different from the House bill; so either the Senate bill must be passed -- unchanged -- by the House; or else competing bills must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference--and then that "conference report" must come back to both houses for another vote. If the latter happens, that means another opportunity for a few Senators, who didn't get enough preening time before the cameras, to discover some noble reason to balk on the bill.
But, okay, what if this turkey passes? It's a bad bill, laden with huge increases in spending and special-interest "tax cuts"--but it's not really all that different from what was passed last fall, or has been passed before. Just a more concentrated dose of the same.
So far, the new Obama Administration is looking a lot like the old Bush Administration. The big spending, and interventions in the private sector, were the gift of our former president, which Obama is happily continuing. The difference is that now, the GOP shows some signs of life. There is actually someone in Congress standing up against all this. That's a change that came with the new administration, and wow is it welcome! And this is only three weeks in.
This bill has weak support; now is the time to contact your Senators especially and tell them to vote no!
Am I saying Congress shouldn't do anything about the terrible economy? No; I can think of many things Congress could do, both for short-term relief of suffering, and long-term growth. But this stampede--again, so reminiscent of what President Bush did last fall with his bank bailout--is so ridiculous. "Act now or the world will end!" Gimme a break! Yes, it may take awhile, and we may go through some hard times, but the economy will recover.
And if the economy is really as bad as President Obama says (and one must ask if his negative talk has made things worse), who thinks spending a mere trillion dollars is all it takes to turn it around? I say "mere" not because it isn't a whole lot of money--of course it is--but because it's a mere fraction of the worldwide economy. And either the government has to take that money out of the economy first, through taxes or borrowing; or else it has to invent that money out of thin air--and that's inflation. If I take $5 from Joe, and I go to the copier, and run off several copies, which I hand back to Sally and Joe, while I keep some for myself, why should any of us feel richer as a result of that exercise? And yet, that is precisely the logic of this sort of "stimulus."
I don't mean to seem too cheerful; but one reason I'm not more dolorous is that I believe things really are beginning to turn, ever so slightly, in the right direction. If this terrible bill passes (and it's possible it won't, at least without being whittled down a lot more), those who passed it will have to pray very hard that they don't face terrible problems in the next Congressional elections. The Obama White House is having to exhaust itself -- so says the President -- to marshall votes for this, then what will become of so much else he wants, that will be even more controversial? (Big spending per se, for all the problems, isn't terribly controversial, as the last administration's sorry record shows. That's part of what I find encouraging: at last, it looks like big spending is becoming a political liability; that is "change we can believe in!")
Yes, we are going to be getting some bad policy for the next few years; but we've been getting a whole lot of the same bad policy for many years up to now; what's changed is that the GOP is no longer a full-on collaborator, and instead, actually raising a protest; and the political alignment is gradually shifting, such that politicians are beginning to sense they face real consequences. A lot of Democrats are already nervous about 2010.