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The Cossacks work for the czar

Josh Green liked Laura Tyson's New York Times op-ed on why we need a second stimulus. He liked it so much, in fact, that it convinced him Tyson should be in the administration. "Quick," he writes, "who in the White House could you envision speaking these words on television? I draw a blank."

Not me. I could imagine pretty much everyone in the White House speaking those words because pretty much everyone in the White House believes some variant of Tyson's argument. Larry Summers could've made those points, and so could Tim Geithner. Peter Orszag wouldn’t have had any trouble, nor would Jason Furman or Christina Romer or Austen Goolsbee. If you really wanted the argument to have some punch, Joe Biden or Barack Obama could've been dispatched to make the case.

But none of them are making that argument. And if Tyson was in the White House, she wouldn't be making that argument, either. She wouldn't be allowed to. The judgment is that Congress won't approve a second stimulus, and as such, the administration won't push for such a thing publicly, because the conventional wisdom is that the White House should only fight for policies it can actually see passing. I don't really understand that judgment, but there's nothing in Tyson's op-ed that suggests her presence would alter it. Put her in the White House and she's going to start sounding a lot like everyone else in the White House.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 30, 2010; 12:53 PM ET
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I'd like to hear more from you on that point, Ezra. I tend to agree that the White House shouldn't throw a lot of support behind measures which are doomed in Congress because as far as I'm aware there's not much they can do to sway move the votes around unless it's really really close, and even then there's only so much they can do. And a White House which is constantly getting beat by the minority party in Congress is going to look weak and ineffective.

On the other hand, I think it's good for a White House to pick one, maybe two issues which they're pretty sure won't make it through Congress to either raise an important policy issue or point out Congress' inability to tackle big problems. Noble stands, however, should be very limited and carefully handled.

Is your argument that a second stimulus should be this White House's noble stand, or are you saying you don't see the argument for avoiding losses to Congress?

Posted by: MosBen | August 30, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Ezra is learning, finally. Yes, the Cossacks do work for the czar, and if the Cossacks don't seem to care too much about putting on a full-court press to shame Congress into action, then perhaps that actually reflects what the Czar wants. So, connecting the dots, everyone in the White House, including the President of the Unuited States, believe that we need more action to alleviate the real misery that exists out there, but they've decided not to press for it. The administration - they feel your pain and know what to do about it, but they just won't try. There's a re-election slogan for you!

Posted by: redscott1904 | August 30, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"... the conventional wisdom is that the White House should only fight for policies it can actually see passing. I don't really understand that judgment ..."

Really?! Truly?!?! Art of the possible, you know.

Posted by: ostap666 | August 30, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why the White House doesn't fight for what they believe in whether or not they think it is going to pass.

The Republicans do not think that they are going to repeal health care reform yet they are rallying their base with vowing to repeal HRC.

I don't understand why the White House doesn't fight for something to rally its base.

Posted by: maritza1 | August 30, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

maritza1, I think the important facet is whether the White House fights over everything they see as being important and/or refuse to compromise, or if they choose an issue they think is popular with the base and/or the populace writ large, or if it's just good but not super popular policy and fight that one battle knowing they won't win.

I get the feeling that some Dems, and maybe in this post Ezra (though it's not usually his style) want the White House to fight a whole bunch of losing battles because they believe certain things that simply don't have the votes in Congress to pass. Like I said, it's possible my confusion with what Ezra's getting at in this post is simply that, confusion, but I do think a lot of Dems want President Obama to spend every day out there making speaches and "twisting arms" on the issues that they care about, even if there's no chance that a bill can pass.

Personally I think losing too many battles to Congress makes a President look ineffectual. Moving the ball forward on several pieces of compromise legislation while fighting the good fight on one high profile issue seems to me to be a much better, and smarter, way to roll. Still, I really haven't seen this administration stake out even one issue on which they won't do some deep compromise, which I think is also a mistake. It makes them look like they're constantly getting rolled; at least to the base.

Posted by: MosBen | August 30, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Obama is much further to the right than he appeared to be in the primary race against Clinton. Bill Clinton understood jobs and fought for jobs. Obama is fighting for........??

Posted by: bakho | August 30, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree that this is a situation where I do not understand where the White House is coming from. Advocating a simple to explain second stimulus such as a payroll tax holiday is, I think, a political win-win. The president can explain that the original stimulus was desiged to prevent the worst from happening and while it was successful in preventing the worst from happening, we can do more to create jobs now without hurting our long-term fiscal situation. He could combine this with extension of 98% of the Bush tax cuts and challenge the GOP on the deficit effects of the stimulus holiday by asking if say $200B additional debt for stimulus is so bad, why is $700B in additional debt for tax cuts for the wealthy so good. If it all passes, his leadership looks good and if it doesnt pass then he is still on a politically winning side that could actually Dems in the fall. I wonder in part if the problem isnt the White House but Congressional Dems who seem to suddenly have some pathological fear of hearing the word defict muttered and they dont want the White House to propose this.
Which I also think is bizarre, but not surprising, on the part of CongDems. When Truman called Congress back in 1948, he knew they probably wouldnt pass the proposals, but he would look like a leader in either event and would have a campaign issue if, as expected, they didnt. I think the same would be true for Obama and the Dems now. People dont like the GOP and support is soft, but I think a lot of voters just do not see what Dems are proposing to do that the GOP is stopping, but now, the coverage would be intense and people would get the message and the GOP would, I believe suffer.

Posted by: gregspolitics | August 30, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

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