House Passes Stimulus with Zero Republican Votes
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats passed an $819 billion “stimulus” package without a single Republican vote.
All but 11 Democrats voted for the plan, and 177 Republicans voted against it. The 244-to-188 vote came a day after Mr. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to seek Republican backing, if not for the package then on other issues to come.
Mr. Obama, in a statement hailing the House passage of the plan, did not take note of the partisan divide but signaled that he expected changes to be made in the Senate that might attract support. “I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk,” he said. “But what we can’t do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do.”
Mr. Obama followed the House vote with a cocktail party at the White House for the Congressional leaders of both parties, from the House and the Senate. The House Republicans, including the minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, were fresh from their votes against the recovery package.
Both Obama and the GOP are acting shrewdly here. The Republicans are acting as a strong, principled opposition party and Obama is playing it cool by continuing to reach out to them.
Kevin Drum says, “I think it’s now safe to say that the GOP caucus has decided to pick up where it left off last year, in full-on obstruction mode.” Recall, though, that they were obstructing a bailout boondoggle proposed by a Republican president. It turns out that they were right to do so. And it would seem evidence that the vote is principled rather than partisan. That’s a good thing. With this vote, the Republicans take a huge step towards re-establishing themselves as the fiscally conservative party, a mantle they had lost much right to during the Bush years. So long as they make this about principle rather than partisan politics, it benefits them.
Michelle Malkin‘s headline “This crap sandwich is all yours, Dems” is right, too, so far as it goes. But that’s no the way to spin this. The economy’s in the toilet and the GOP can’t be gleeful in standing in the way of the president’s agenda to fix it. Rather, the point is “we respectfully dissent.” We want to work with you to find a solution but one that meets our principles.
Andrew Sullivan makes the obvious counterargument: “The GOP sure rewarded the president for coming to the Hill and talking it through with them for hours, didn’t they?” And he’s right so far as it goes: if the Republicans won’t play ball, there’s not much point in involving them in the negotiations. If the Democrats are going to pass bills on party line votes, they may as well pass bills about which they’re enthusiastic. But, of course, there’s the Senate. Even with a strong majority, it’s going to be hard to get this boondoogle through the upper chamber. Not only will most Republicans likely be opposed there, too, but so will a lot of Democrats.
Bruce McQuain disagrees, figuring that one or more Republican Senators — he names McCain, Collins, Specter, Graham, and Snowe as likely culprits — which cross the aisle. Maybe. But there are plenty of Democrats that represent relatively conservative states who have strong incentive to vote against this thing.
Jon Henke, meanwhile, thinks the Republicans are following “a losing strategy.”
The only way to beat the hand Obama is playing is to take the initiative, to change the subject, with new policies and arguments that put Democrats off their game. And even that will take quite some time.
I don’t see much evidence that Republicans are able to do that right now. There’s just no larger, unifying framework for a transformative policy agenda, and no apparent policy innovation being done. Without the unifying agenda and policy innovation, Obama will continue to set the agenda, and Republicans will lose ground at every step.
A president with majorities — strong majorities — in both Houses of Congress will always set the agenda. And that’s as it should be. Sure, the opposition party can write up contracts for America and otherwise argue for a bold alternative vision. But it’s rather much to expect them to do that mere days after the results of the last election have gone into effect. Right now, their job is to voice principled objection to the new president’s policy offerings, do what they can to smooth off the sharpest edges, and ultimately lose vote after vote.
If, two years from now, the country is in much better shape, then the Democrats will, rightly, hold on to power. If, as happened in 1994, the Democrats drop the ball, then the Republicans need to be ready to pick it up and have a game plan for advancing it towards their end zone.