The problem with a lobbyist-free White House is becoming more apparent. While Obama starts the Yes We Can Pass the Stimulus Campaign, I can't help but wonder why he can't get the (very necessary) stimulus package passed the same way Bush got his (very unnecessary) wars approved.
The easiest answer is that Obama cannot say that terrorists will attack the United States of America if we don't give more money to the National Endowment for the Arts. He cannot claim that giving tax-cuts to people who should be bled to save the economy is the right move, even thought it would solve the problems we face post-haste.
But as Paul Krugman pointed out today, "Such are the perils of negotiating with yourself."
What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses? A proud centrist.
I'd like to think we're merely suffering from a bulldog deficit. That could be fixed. There is no Cheney in the White House by design. That's potentially a good thing, or at least a-good-thing-in-theory. Rahm Emanuel is no Cheney (thank goodness). He is not more bark than bite, nor is he on a tight leash: he's simply a centrist who gutted the stimulus package before it was properly filled up with "negotiating points." Seriously, folks, whatever happened to shooting the moon?
The result of this misunderestimation? Bye-bye aid to for failing state governments (more IOUs to California's teachers, cops, firefighters, et al), toodles to new school construction, no to state-by-state Medicaid support, and a billion less for the nation's Head Start programs. (Check out a good list of what's going and-or gone here.)
President Obama could have used this economic crisis as a lever to re-create a more people-oriented policy; he could have pushed through social programs, and turned the stimulus package into a vessel for tomorrow's promise. Now he's out using all of America as the middleman. It's a good tactic. He's going outside Washington to sell the plan, because Washington is not behaving the way he'd like. That's fine, but why on Earth would you present such an anemic, centrist plan for the "presidential treatment?" Smaller is smaller. Any negotiation begins with the throw-away number. They started too small and now the stimulus package isn't going to cut it. (Before you point out the obvious, I am no economist, but Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and this is also his very considered opinion.) If you are looking to negotiate, do it right. This was a botched, ill-formed thing.
As Maureen Dowd quipped, what we got finally was a plan that "gave the kiss of life to a bunch of flat-lining Republican tax-cut fetishists." We hope the plan works, and we're not shocked by the centrist position, but at some point change requires change.
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