5 p.m. ET: We're just a few hours away now from a House vote on the economic stimulus bill, and that's probably a good thing for the measure's backers. Because the longer the bill sits out there, the more time there is for people to figure out what's in it.
That's not to say whether the bill as a whole is good or bad, or whether it should or should not pass. Only that any time Congress spends this much money there are going to be bits and pieces that don't look so good when exposed to the naked eye. Drudge, for example, has decided to play up one particularly provocative-sounding piece of the bill, albeit with a 7th-grade-level sense of humor. (STDs! "Stimulus"! Get it?!?)
Other, less giggly critics are noticing that the stimulus measure includes an awful lot of provisions that Democrats had been hoping to pass for a long time. An incredulous Wall Street Journal editorial board calls it "a political wonder that manages to spend money on just about every pent-up Democratic proposal of the last 40 years." Michelle Malkin is collecting examples of arguably non-stimulative items like money for off-road vehicle route maintenance and HIV testing. And in a non-critical way, the New York Times points out that the measure "is also a tool for rewriting the social contract with the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed, in ways [Democrats] have long yearned to do."
These items might make for a good blog post or a sharp press release, but will any of them actually peel off votes from the stimulus package? Probably not. Republicans already look likely to vote against the bill in large numbers, though perhaps this gives them one more public excuse to do so ("It's got pork in it!"), and Democrats are unlikely to turn against the measure just because some fraction of one percent of it pays for something they don't like. And yes, there is a defense to be made of even the STD spending. This is the legislative process, and it's not pretty. And the bigger the bill, the less pretty it gets.
8 a.m. ET: Let the betting begin -- how many votes will the stimulus package get on the House floor today? And how many minds did President Obama actually change yesterday?
As The Fix points out, Obama is riding a wave of popularity right now and he has made clear that passing the stimulus -- not just passing it, but doing so with Republican votes -- is his first and biggest priority. In fact, Obama came into office with the highest approval rating of any new president since John F. Kennedy.
But it's also true that many Republicans have genuine philosophical problems with the stimulus package, as its price tag now approaches $900 billion, believing that it spends too much and cuts taxes too little. In the view of some conservatives, the best thing government can do right now is nothing. And from a purely strategic perspective, as Josh Marshall observes, most Republicans have decided that opposing the measure is their best political move. If the stimulus turns out to be a success, the victory will accrue to Obama with relatively little benefit for the GOP for having supported it. Republicans' best chance for a boost is to oppose the bill and then have it become unpopular and unsuccessful at turning the economy around. Put more simply, the stimulus is going to become law no matter what Republicans do, so why not take a stand? Their electoral situation can't get much worse than it already is, and it might just get better.
Knowing all that, most indications this morning are that Obama won't get more than a few GOP votes in favor of the stimulus package. Despite their appreciation for Obama's outreach yesterday, it looks as though few Republicans will change their mind, as they consider backing the bill to be a leap too far. Best quote on that subject: "It’s like asking a lion to be a vegetarian."
It's not just Republicans who have to consider the political implications of voting for or against the stimulus. Mark Preston notes that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has made a notably early ad buy in Nevada, going on TV to slam "super spending partisan Harry Reid" for backing the financial bailout and now pushing "a trillion more dollars in new spending." The ad is running in Reno, the more conservative of the state's two major markets, where voters might be more receptive to the anti-spending argument.
But do most voters care as much about spending and the deficit right now as they do about layoffs and turning the economy around? That's the question members of Congress -- including a few skeptical Democrats -- face today as they calculate both what they think is best for the country and what they think is best for saving their own skins.
January 28, 2009; 5:00 PM ET
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