Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stimulus package passes House

The economic stimulus package has passed the House. The vote was 244-188, with no Republicans voting for it, despite President Obama's attempts to reach out to them. It still has to pass the Senate before we get to spend money on things long overdue, like infrastructure.

No Republicans. Well, I guess that's a demonstration of party unity. I remember Clinton passing his budget in 1993 and getting no Republican support. I guess Republicans think that worked out well for them, which it did, in a sense - they took back the House in '94, much to the Democrats' surprise. Of course they lost to Clinton in '96, but Bob Dole was the candidate, and he was a terrible candidate to run against Clinton.

But this isn't 1993, although Republicans apparently are not aware of that. Obama is not the polarizing figure that Clinton was. Clinton beat George H. W. Bush, but barely, and no one hated Bush Senior. Republicans were not in total disarray, their ideology in tatters.

What the American people are picking up is that Obama apparently means it when he talks about being bipartisan. The man is a good listener, and he makes an honest effort to reach out to people who disagree with him. That's just so insanely refreshing. Maybe Republicans don't remember Reagan's dictum about how to relate to the other party. He used to say that, after 6:00, we're all friends. Apparently he really got along with Tip O'Neill, another Irishman.

Hilzoy puts it well in a good post at the Washington Monthly:

If you try hard, and publicly, to attract Republican support, but fail, then Republicans look like intransigent ideologues who would rather try to score political points than actually deal with the serious problems the country faces. You, by contrast, look reasonable: you tried to reach out, but your efforts were rejected.
Obama took the high road, made some minor compromises, got the bill through, and came out looking great. He didn't have to twist any arms or waste any political capital. He didn't hesitate or even come across as remotely frustrated. Obama just is not afraid of his political opponents. It's going to drive them crazy.

Now, of course, the bill has to get through the Senate and to Obama's desk. Then it has to work. It has to actually make a difference. Roads and bridges have to be repaired. People have to be hired.

But we are in such dire straits that the stimulus will work almost regardless of what happens. This much money has to do some kind of good. In a normal economy, or even in a normal recession, it might not be that easy to tell what kind of a difference a bill like this would make. But this is not a normal economy or a normal recession. My guess is that it will be very clear to a large number of people exactly where the benefits are. And many people will be grateful.

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