Posted on January 27, 2009
Our new President deserves great credit for reaching out repeatedly to Congressional Republicans to get them to vote for the stimulus package. He invited them to the White House and he traveled to Capitol Hill today to talk specifically to the GOP members.
This charm-offensive has effectively made the President look bipartisan, but it has also elevated the power of the Republicans to get their concerns covered by the national media.
Opposing the President is a tricky business for Republicans. While it may make their base happy, such opposition could alienate critical swing voters who are already inclined to support Mr. Obama.
The most effective arguments against this package are not deficit-related. For close to 200 years, Congress after Congress has added to our national debt, and only in good times, does it pretend to pay any of it down.
I think the most effective Republican argument is its effectiveness. Will this package work?
There are many reasons why it won’t work: only 8 % of the spending happens this year; wasteful non-stimulative spending, (including spending for the NEA, the Census, turf replacement for National Mall, and money for the controversial group ACORN), makes up too much of the final package; most of the tax cuts are not tax cuts at all, but direct payments to people who don’t pay taxes; the cost per job created or saved is about $275,000 (not exactly cost-effective); only 3 percent of the package goes to highway construction; the bill creates more than 30 new programs that will cost close to $150 billion, according to estimates based on the programs ending someday, but it is more likely that they will live on forever, and cost the taxpayers many more times than that $150 billion figure.
On the positive side, it seems that Nancy Pelosi might be taking the condom language out of the final package. So Republicans have that going for them.
The President is putting his own reputation on the line to get Republicans votes. Republicans say that they are not voting for this bloated package because it won’t work.
In 1993, every Republican in both the House and Senate voted against Bill Clinton’s first budget. That budget included tax increases and spending cuts, and at that time, President Clinton was already on the ropes, having made some controversial decisions and some early political blunders. Republicans were on the offense, and the country was still trending Republican at the Congressional level.
We are in a different situation now. Republicans have lost two elections in a row by wide margins, a Republican President just departed with some of the lowest poll ratings in history, and the party image is tattered. There is also a national economic crisis, and even some conservative economists believe we need a big stimulus to keep the economy from completely collapsing.
Republicans should understand that while the President doesn’t need his votes, he wants them, and this desire gives them a great opportunity to get something in return. They should aim higher than getting the condoms out of the package. They should push to get more certainty in the tax code on investment, research, development and on dividends. They should push to increase the percentage of immediate infrastructure spending, and they should push to decrease the cost of each job created from more than $275,000 per person to something reasonable, like $100,000 per person.
The Republican Leadership is right. The current package won’t work. If President Obama gives them a chance to fix it, they should take him up on the offer.