washingtonpost.com
Obama's Victory

By Dan Froomkin
12:26 PM ET, 02/12/2009


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announcing the agreement on the stimulus package yesterday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Obama is getting a stimulus bill that's more or less what he wanted, right when he wanted it.

Sure, the bill is hideously complicated, enormously messy, and not entirely to anyone's satisfaction -- but for goodness sakes, it's nearly a trillion dollars big, and it's the result of the legislative process. Remember the legislative process? As I argued on Friday, those who think Obama should have told Congress exactly what to do seem to be holding him to the standards of George Bush's imperial presidency. Wouldn't you rather Obama treated Congress like the co-equal branch it's supposed to be?

And, sure, it isn't the triumph of bipartisanship that Obama once had in mind. But I found Obama's comments to Terry Moran of ABC News on Tuesday somewhat persuasive. Republicans, in this case, "made a decision that they want to continue the same fights that we've been having over the last decade," he said. But that doesn't mean it will always be that way. "[O]ld habits break hard and, and you know, I, I understand that and so we're going to keep on reaching out and eventually, I have confidence that it's going to pay off."

Consider what Obama accomplished. Congressional leaders have come to an agreement on a nearly $790 billion package yesterday, and as Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post that "the legislation is set to arrive on President Obama's desk no later than Monday -- the target Democratic leaders set last month for enacting it into law....

"[A]s a deal emerged from the tumultuous negotiations of the past two days, the bill followed remarkably closely to the broad outline that Obama had painted more than a month ago. The overall cost is just $14 billion more than his original top-end target, while the portion of tax cuts comes to 36 percent, only slightly below his initial goal...

"Obama called the bill 'a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track.' But despite the acknowledgment of ceding some ground, the president secured many of his biggest priorities in the legislation, including the longer-term health-care and energy investments that the administration views as a down payment on broader reforms....

"[M]any economists remain highly skeptical about its potential for providing a significant boost to the sagging economy. But in the near term, the compromise stands as the first major achievement of the new administration."

Greg Hitt and Jonathan Weisman write in the Wall Street Journal: "Congress and the White House reached accord on a $789.5 billion economic-recovery package that would shower hundreds of billions of dollars in tax relief on individuals and businesses and spark an infrastructure building boom, from the nation's ports and waterways to its schools and military bases. The deal all but clinches passage of one of the largest economic rescue programs since Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal....

"Defying two decades of mostly Republican-led efforts to diminish federal authority and focus on lifting the economy through tax cuts, the legislation would expand unemployment insurance, tilt federal assistance to the poor, launch major efforts to streamline health-care delivery and give Washington a larger hand in local education spending."

Via U.S. News: "On MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, John Harwood of the New York Times and CNBC said, 'We shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of this early victory' for Obama. To 'get an $800 billion stimulus package in your first couple weeks in office, that's not bad for a start for Barack Obama.' On CNN's The Situation Room, Gloria Borger said 'if you look at the broad sweep of history,' the Obama Administration is going well: 'When you go back to President Bill Clinton, he had trouble getting a stimulus package passed six or seven months into his term. And that was $16 billion.'"

Still, Richard W. Stevenson, political editor of the New York Times, declares in a news analysis that "this was hardly a moment for cigars."

Stevenson describes the package as "a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one." But he quickly asks whether it was "the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda...or a harbinger of reduced expectations." He then essentially argues the latter.

"While it hammered home the reality of bigger, more activist government, the economic package was not the culmination of a hard-fought ideological drive, like Lyndon B. Johnson's civil rights and Great Society programs, or Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, but rather a necessary and hastily patched-together response to an immediate and increasingly dire situation...

"In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right."

Obama has been trying to recast his political goals as vital to improving the economy, Stevenson writes. "He has been framing rising health care costs not just as a social issue, but as one affecting the viability of American industry. Cleaning up the environment and weaning the economy from its dependence on oil are opportunities to create new, well-compensated jobs. Education is an investment in the economy's long-term competitiveness.

"But those assertions will run up against a variety of countervailing forces: a rapidly rising national debt, a strain of populist anger, a smaller but energized Republican minority and divisions among Democrats about priorities, to name a few. Getting past them promises to be as tricky for Mr. Obama as was this first victory."

And Charles Mahtesian and Patrick O'Connor write for Politico: "So much for post-partisanship....

"While no one expected Obama's pledge to fix our 'broken politics' would be met quickly or easily, the first month of the new administration has been marked by extreme polarization, with hints of more to come....

"[D]espite Obama's campaign call for an end to 'the smallness of our politics' and his criticism of the 'preference for scoring cheap political points,' that's exactly what's happened during the first big legislative test of his administration."

Then again, as Obama suggested in an interview with ABC's Terry Moran on Tuesday, maybe his honeymoon is still going strong -- just not in Washington.

Susan Page writes in USA Today that the key to Obama's success was getting out of town: "En route to what looks to be the first major victory of his presidency, Obama had some stumbles. His team allowed congressional Republicans to cast the stimulus bill as laden with wasteful spending, and faced distracting questions over why some Cabinet nominees hadn't paid all their taxes....

"Under fire in Washington, he scheduled campaign-style town-hall meetings to make the case for his huge economic stimulus bill to folks in Elkhart, Ind., and Fort Myers, Fla. He dismissed the Republican opposition as the business-as-usual crowd. He relied on his rhetorical skills and popularity....

"The news coverage was just what the White House wanted: TV footage of Obama surrounded by citizens who pleaded for government action on the economy and thanked him for listening."

And it seems to have worked. "Obama managed to boost public support for the plan when he hit the road during the past week. A USA Today survey of 1,021 adults taken Tuesday showed support for the bill rising to 59%, up 7 percentage points from a week earlier."

Indeed, Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Nearly seven in ten Americans approve of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, giving him enormous political capital as he pushes Congress to give him unprecedented tools to fight economic crisis, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll.

"Obama outpolls Congress by more than 30 points, and he also can point to an uptick in the number of people who think the country's headed in the right direction even as a majority thinks the worst is yet to come in the economy.

"The survey found that 69 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance — with a robust 38 percent 'strongly' approving....

"Notably, the solid approval was recorded Feb. 6-9, after Obama admitted that he 'screwed up' in the ill-fated nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary."

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