Several days ago, Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats rammed an $800 billion "economic stimulus package" through the House of Representatives with nary a Republican vote. Most economists peg the package at well over a trillion dollars, once interest payments are factored in.
I took in Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press today. Senators Dick Durbin and John Kerry warned of "one of the most serious economic crises in our history" (Durbin), urged "bold action" (Kerry), and explained how the president had already reached out to House Republicans in an unprecedented way (that is, he drove several blocks to Capitol Hill and talked with the GOP caucus for an hour).
Durbin, Kerry, Pelosi, et al. have couched the stimulus in the following terms: The economy is in the tank. The current crisis requires drastic governmental intervention. And as the belligerent, bug-eyed Pelosi has so eloquently maintained, "We won the election, so we wrote the bill." And by pointing to Obama's efforts to reach out to Republicans (which, to be fair, included a cocktail reception at the White House several days ago), they've tried to put the ball in the GOP's court.
President Obama likewise has been disingenuous about his supposed bipartisan overtones. I give him credit for meeting with the opposition in the House, a move that President Bush never would have even considered. Most Democrats have pointed to this meeting as some sort of transformative, never-before-seen gesture.
But I am not a partisan. I did not agree with much of what the Bush administration did. It spent too much. It focused on small-bore social issues like internet gambling and stem-cell research while our country fought wars in two theaters. It used a "51% majority" strategy to drive away the same swath of moderate Democrats that Reagan was able to win over. It marginalized Republican centrists like John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Chuck Hagel. Dissent was discouraged in what was perhaps the most partisan administration in modern history.
But Barack Obama is supposed to be different.
He sold himself to voters as some sort of transcendent post-partisan. If he fails to gain a single Republican vote from either house of Congress, it further cements to me that this carefully crafted image is a fraud.
Furthermore, the Democrats have confused form with substance. Simply because Obama spoke with House Republicans for an hour doesn't mean that GOP lawmakers are automatically compelled to vote for the president's bill. Any president can nominally meet with the opposition. The key to legitimate bipartisanship is the willingness to actually incorporate the other side's desires and concerns into legislation, and to engage in very real give and take. Bipartisanship is not a one-way street. If the president and the congressional Democratic leadership are serious about incorporating Republican ideas into the stimulus package, they would actually do so.
Is there any indication that the president is interested in doing this?
This $800 billion package is a disingenuous attempt by the Democratic Party to shove through virtually every plank of its agenda over the last 40 years.
On Meet the Press, David Gregory cited a quote from a top Democrat aide, who remarked this week that, in effect, the Democratic Party, with a perfect storm at its back, had the chance to do what President Reagan did a generation ago -- implement the party's entire agenda.
(The difference between 2009 and 1982, of course, is that Reagan worked directly with an entirely Democratic-controlled Congress.)
The House bill provides a $500 tax rebate to voters in select income brackets, nearly a third of whom don't pay income taxes at all.
It provides money for Filipino World War II veterans who are now living in their native country.
It allocates a staggering $15 billion to creating college scholarships.
A billion dollars are earmarked to deal with problems in administering the 2010 census.
Pelosi's bill includes $400 million for STD prevention.
And all under the guise of "economic stimulus."
This is pathetic, and it's just the tip of the iceberg.
President Obama indicated throughout the campaign that infrastructure investment would be the centerpiece of any new stimulus package, but such spending accounts for just 3 percent of the House's version of the bill.
Two moderate Democrats have already indicated that the stimulus package might be in trouble. Ben Nelson warned on Thursday that as currently constructed, not only will the president fail to get any Republican support in the Senate, but a number of Democrats might even cross party lines and vote against the stimulus package. This would be a crushing blow to the White House on the first major initiative of the Obama presidency.
And on Fox News Sunday, Kent Conrad stated in unequivocal terms that the House's bill contains too much wasteful spending, and that as currently constructed, he would vote against it.
Coming from a Democrat, that's a pretty damning critique.
If the Democrats are serious about actually addressing issues that will provide a real kind of stimulus to the American economy, they would focus on things like suspending the capital gains tax and various measures to encourage investor and consumer confidence. I don't agree with Chuck Schumer's idea to allow bankruptcy judges to unilaterally rewrite mortgage agreements, but he's right that the housing bubble precipitated the present crisis. At least Schumer's idea is one that would address one of the root causes of the economic crisis and "stimulate" the economy to some degree.
The bottom line is that this package spends far too much in too many of the wrong places and would add more than a trillion dollars to a national debt that doubled to more than $10 trillion under the leadership of President Bush.
If Democrats were truly serious about legislation to revive the struggling economy -- instead of using the crisis as an excuse to create a veritable Christmas tree of liberals' favorite social programs -- it wouldn't look anything like this.