White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs cast the administration's inability to pick up any Republican votes as a reflection of the politics Obama campaigned against — not a repudiation of a president who worked the Republican side of the aisle even harder than he did his own party's side.First of all, it is not really "working" with the other side if they don't have input into the bill as it is being written and into the basic approach that the bill took place. Otherwise, it is simply being courteous but also deciding that your side won and so you don't have to do more than lip service and make polite moves to "reach out" to the Republicans without actually changing what you were going to do in the first place.
"Of course we're disappointed that it's going to take longer to change the way Washington works than just a little more than a week, but the president feels good about the efforts that he's made to reach out to people to work with them," Gibbs said in an interview quickly set up after the vote.
And don't pretend that President Obama couldn't have exerted control over the bill to change some of the spending priorities. We saw the White House act swiftly enough to get the embarrassing money for contraception taken out of the bill when that part got a lot of public attention.
When none of the Republicans voted for the bill, it's an easy analysis to blame it all on partisanship. But it could also be because no Republican was convinced that spending such a huge amount was the best way to stimulate the economy. As Megan McArdle points out, there is little stimulative about the bill because the government just can't spend that much money as fast and as effectively as the stimulation needs to be.
It is very obvious, now that we have the stimulus plans, that the Democrats are using stimulus as an excuse to spend money on things they want to spend money on. Their demand for things like alternative energy programs is inelastic; it's just that it happens, right now, to be convenient to bill them as stimulus.She is skeptical that Keynesian spending is the answer to our problem, but if that is the route we are going to take then that money needs to be spent now, according to the theory, to shock the system back into economic growth not to spread out the spending on the typical Democratic spending priorities.
The problem is, that contra the Republicans, Democrats do care that money spent on these important projects is spent well. And spending a lot of money well takes time. It's an inversion of the old engineering aphorism: good. fast. expensive. You can only have two of the three.
Jim Manzi looks into the broad categories of spending outlined in the package and concludes that the bill is taking us a long way into becoming a European-style social welfare state.
The huge categories of spending under this bill that I could map to categories other than “General Spending” are in Social Protection (~$90 billion), Education (~$90 billion) and Environment (~$55 billion). Interestingly, Defense represents only about 3% of the spending in the bill (as opposed to 12% of U.S. government spending overall, or about 3% of French overall government spending as a point of comparison) and Public Safety represents only about 1% of spending in the bill (as opposed to about 6% of U.S. government spending overall, or about 2% of French government spending overall). In other words, the net effect of this bill is to shift the distribution of U.S. government spending as a whole away from defense and public safety and toward social programs: for good or ill, to make the U.S. into more of a European-style social welfare state. Because the amount of spending is so huge, this will be a material, not notional, shift. Eventually, we will emerge from this recession/depression/whatever it’s going to be. When that happens, is this really the kind of government we’re going to want?With spending like that in the bill that will lead to such a massive and most probably permanent change in our economy is it any wonder that Republicans rejected it? Presumably these representatives became Republicans for a reason and so, being conservative, aren't interested in a spending bill that is geared towards Democratic priorities and that does very little towards actually stimulating the economy. So it is not necessarily partisanship that led all the House Republicans to vote against the bill. They were voting what they believe. That's not partisanship; it's ideology.
And this change is unlikely to be temporary. Imagine two illustrative scenarios. First, the U.S. goes through a fairly standard recession and emerges by about late 2010 into a recovery. The government, subject to normal grumbling, is mostly given credit for handling things the right way. Obama is reelected in 2012 and Democrats retain control of Congress. Or second, we enter and new Depression, or more likely, a Japan of the 1990s long-term recession. Unemployment is stuck well above 10%. The mood of the country is deeply pessimistic, and government programs are a lifeline for a good chunk of the population. In which of these two scenarios is it realistic to expect that the 2009 increases to food stamps, unemployment compensation, healthcare benefits or HUD housing assistance will really be rolled back in 2012-2015? Neither, as far as I can see.