Then again, only in Washington could the word "powerful" be applied to three members who voted for a bill that they always intended to vote for, no matter how big, bad or ugly. Their real accomplishment this week wasn't "fixing" the stimulus; they didn't. Their real role was providing cover for moderate Democrats (smile, Messrs. Conrad and Nelson) who might have been reluctant to vote for an unpopular spending blowout, were it not for GOP back-up.Get ready for a lot of such scenes. These three plus a few other squishy Republicans who enjoy being touted as the moderates who save bad bills will be doing this for as long as they are in the Senate. I don't know why they even call themselves Republicans, but probably they realize that no one would pay any attention to them at all if they were Democrats voting along with their caucus every time. But while they are the so-called "mavericks" in the GOP, they're always going to get those invitations to appear on the Sunday news shows where they will try to spin their votes without answering why they suddenly ignored their previous concern about deficits.
A week ago the Capitol's phone lines were jammed with Americans -- half of them from North Dakota -- livid about "stimulus" waste. A number of Senate Democrats, several up for re-election in red-state America, were sweating dollar signs. Then Ms. Collins convened her group, which took very seriously its job of fiddling around the bill's edges. By the time they emerged, Conrad, Nelson & Co. were boasting that the final Senate product was a "bipartisan compromise" that demonstrated their continued commitment to "fiscal responsibility." Only in Washington can adding $20 billion to an $817 billion House bill earn you praise as a deficit hawk.
Barack Obama meanwhile can thank them for providing cover for the fiction that the bill, post-"compromise," had somehow been shorn of its worst waste. Going into the Collins huddle, the "stimulus" contained $2 billion for a power plant in Illinois, $75 million for the Smithsonian, $300 million for government cars, and dozens of other embarrassing projects. Coming out of the Senate it contained $2 billion for a power plant in Illinois, $75 million for the Smithsonian, $300 million for government cars, dozens of other embarrassing projects, an additional $420 million for Maine's Medicaid program, and an additional $6.5 billion for the National Institutes for Health (courtesy of Mr. Specter). There's good reason why the Senate's true fiscal disciplinarians -- say, Tom Coburn or Jim DeMint -- didn't get down with the "compromise" party.
And then there's the self-cover. Ms. Snowe had to be worried that someone might remember that she's spent 13.99 of her 14 years in the Senate publicly agonizing, usually in view of a camera, about the "deficit." Or that as recently as, oh, January, she was fervently devoted to "paygo" -- which she waived in deference to $839 billion in deficit spending. She might have even worried her enthusiasm for this bill might finally, after all these years, highlight that her fiscal responsibility only surfaces when it is time to oppose a tax cut, and that she's never met spending she didn't love.
But no worries! Who has time to remember all those obvious facts? If there's one thing the Maine duo love and understand it's the press, which has a habit of forgetting everything in the face of a hearty, happy compromise. These days, the most dangerous place for Chuck Schumer in Washington is between Susan Collins and a camera.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Kimberley Strassel is exactly right in how she describes what the three Compromiser Republicans have done - they did what they always do - posture about how moderate they are, while actually accomplishing nothing except giving Democrats cover to do what they want to do. Except now that the Republicans have only 41 senators, those three were the difference to get to the all important 60 votes to obtain cloture. They might pretend that they accomplished something in improving the bill, but it's all an illusion.