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Obama's Victory

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 12, 2009; 12:26 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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The bills aren't on his desk yet. He'd better get back on the stump lest the Senate GOP'ers through another hissy fit.

How about neo-partisanship since post-partisanship never was.

Posted by: Bushy | February 12, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

WEll he did attempt to reach across the to the GOP. They just don't get it and soon they will be reduced to a few of the red states. The 3 senator's that crossed to vote with the Dem's are from blue states.

To expect any one to turn this mess around in 3 weeks is unrealistic! Our hopes here in the heart land is that things will start to turn around by this time next year. Unforseen events could make change the horizon of recovery.
God Speed President Obama.

Posted by: nstein1 | February 12, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Before we all start slobbering all over ourselves congratulating Obama on his stimulus victory, let's take a look at what happened along the way:

1) House Dems write an absurd bill filled with needless spending that are essentially earmarks without being called such -- illiciting outrage from the GOP and Americans alike for frivolous spending at a time of national economic crisis

2) Senate Dems [with their traditional sobering reality] step in and try to: add their own pet projects and snip a few of the House excesses, but lacking 60 votes;

3) 3 runaway GOP'ers step in and wave their magic wand arbitrarily over the stimulus cutting programs here and there to supposedly satisfy the GOP that this stimulus is not just a spending orgy. The problem with this approach is that control over the stimulus is given to 3 individual Senators -- instead of the power residing in the Democratic leadership and White House.

4) In order to satisfy the GOP, they cut food stamps (one of the most effective way to stimulate consumer spending); neuter direct aid to cash-strapped states (another great way to ease the pain among the Electorate); and drastically cut spending for education, AND -- reduce the [already trivial] tax rebate to hard-working tax-paying citizens. NOW, I ask rhetorically, would the GOP be proud of such cuts?

So, in essence, Obama did not write the stimulus, did not have an inordinate amount of sway, allowed the GOP to hijack the stimulus and hold it hostage, and will eventually get a bill that will just add an enormous amount of money to the deficit with only a negligible amount of help to the economic crisis. Our Government just doesn't get it -- this stimulus will result in widespread fraud, waste & abuse as state & federal agencies rush to spend the money giving contracts to all sorts of shady characters who will fleece the taxpayers.

Mark these words: there will be rampant abuse of the system -- there will be nepotism and cronyism when awarding the contracts, there will be construction delays, cost-overruns and other impediments that will cause widespread displeasure and outright rage. AND, I suspect the GOP will delight in these failures.

SO, it is a marginal victory at best for Obama...

Posted by: winoohno | February 12, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

It's a mess, and in no way will address our economic problems, it is DOA.

This isn't pretend, anymore, and these people are unqualified.

But really, why isn't anyone holding Obama's feet to the fire in regard to rendition?

He's Cheney, anyone with half a brain can see he's no different, no more able than old Dick.

Doesn't know how to resolve the war on terror, the wrapping paper of this economic stimulus simply more Congressional hubris at work.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | February 12, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I can understand that we celebrate the political aspect of this accomplishment. However, I FAIL to see how this is even in the ball park of the right solution. Is ANYONE thinking beyond the horizon in this town? We have $1.5 TRILLION of new deficit spending in the last 6 months, on top of what the ongoing prosecution of two wars has caused. WHY IS THIS A GOOD IDEA?

Posted by: frustrated5 | February 12, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Hey Froomkin, why no mention of obama taking the census anf putting emmanuel in charge? If Bush did this, you would write about it every day, twice on fridays! Just show what a partisan hack you really are. The libs intend to redistrict themselves into immortality. That's ok froomy, you just keep writing what soros tells you to!

Posted by: trjn30 | February 12, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse


--As of October, median net worth had fallen to $98,900, down 3.2% from the end of 2007 and 2% below the level reported in the 2001 survey that was conducted after the bubble burst, according to the Federal Reserve.

--Since October, stock prices have fallen another 15%, while home prices have fallen at least 2%.

--Median household income growth was relatively flat from 2004 to 2007 after adjusting for inflation. Median household income stood at $47,300 per year at the end of 2007.

--The average income for those in the top tenth of the income scale increased nearly 20% to $398,000. For those in the middle, average incomes decreased $400 to $47,300 after adjusting for inflation.

--The typical family owed $67,300 in debts in 2007, up from $60,700 in 2004. The big increase came from debt on second homes. The typical family that had a mortgage owed $107,000 on their primary residence. Those with credit card balances owed $3,000. The median installment debt, chiefly auto loans, was $13,000.

-- In 2007, 14.7% of households were paying more than 40% of their income on debt service (including rent) up from 12.2% in 2004. More than a quarter of the poorest households were paying more than 40% of their incomes.

Posted by: motorfriend | February 12, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Its WAY too small on the spending side and WAY to big on tax cuts, but its a lot better than nothing.

Still, the President shouldn't let what the Republicans did to him go unpunished.

Not after he tried and tried and tried to work with them in a bipartisan fashion.

I hope Democrats in congress and working hard and doing their best to get some Republicans to see the light and switch parties.

2010 will be a landslide victory for Democrats, and Republicans know it.

The smart ones will say "I didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me!", and become Democrats.

Posted by: svreader | February 12, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans who didn't vote for the bill put Party over Country, just as they always do.

Posted by: svreader | February 12, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Stripped from Stimulus--Thanks Harry and Nancy!

The two E-VERIFY amendments that had been accepted by the House Appropriations Committee were stripped without discussion or debate.



Voice your anger and frustration at Pelosi and Reid, they should be ashamed that they are ignoring the American worker.

Contact Pelosi: (202) 224-3542
Contact Reid: (202) 224-3542

Washington Switchboard for your Senator or Congressman at (202) 224-3121


Posted by: infinity555 | February 12, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I was a little uneasy when Obama said there would be change, but NEVER bother to give any examples. Still, I thought that it would be better to have a president that COULD ACTUALLY SPEAK THE LANGUAGE. But I was very disappointed with what Geithner said in his speech on Tuesday(?). Apparently all we got was a good speaker with the same lies that we have been told for the previous 8 years. I'd write both my senators and my congressperson, but I have already done that and all I get is why their judgement is better than mine. With the utter destruction of our economy, I can't be optomistic about the new presidency or the re-vamped Congress. Though I consider myself a progressive, I agree with those that say that this is the same old crap.

Posted by: sailorflat | February 12, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

How does everyone feel about the clause in the package stipulating that all contractors in the had to verify the employment status of their workers being stripped out of the bill?

I am surpised the union monkeys didnt throw a fit over that one.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | February 12, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

In reviewing the success or not of this bill and the President's leadership in connection with it, all of the commentators would do well to remember that it's not relevant how this worked out compared to a hyptothetical ideal bill or process. The relvant standard is what we would have had under President McCain, who I doubt would have been able to corrall his own party OR the Democrats. If anyone thinks John McCain could have achieved anything like this in this sort of time-frame...well. you're just not being honest. My guess is that we would still be in the starting gate looking for right-wing "economists" willing to say that all that's needed to address this crisis is a lot more tax cuts...and maybe some of that good old all-American off-shore drilling.

Posted by: jimpharo | February 12, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

We as Americans continue to live in the moment, and insist on contemplating tree bark (as a opposed experiencing the forest). Let's show a little patience; the economic situation will take time to work itself out, and it will be painful, messy and will not please everyone. BHO has been on the job less than a month. What president, confronted with the kinds of problems this man has inherited (possibly other than FDR), was able to hit the ground running, and not experience stumbles and reality checks, irrespective of previous administrative experience? It may take two years or more to determine if this administration is on the road to resurrecting a stable political and economic climate.

Posted by: MillPond2 | February 12, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

It is reassuring to know that the American People understand the stakes and are willing to persevere and be patient with our new President. Republicans may think that the American people are stupid enough to lose patience with the President after only three weeks.
But, then again, they are used to getting a turnaround on their money within hours.
Their whole dedication to the failure of this Presidency has now been revealed to all of us. Do they comprehend that if this Presidency fails, we all fail? No. Why? They don't CARE about ALL of us.

Posted by: cms1 | February 12, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Is anyone as concerned as I am about Michele Obama's health for the next four years?

She will considered obese if she continues to gain weight as she has in the past year.

I voted for President Obama and will again, but the First Lady's health would certainly have a serious influence on the Presidents' term(s) in office.

Posted by: bhanks817 | February 12, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin Spells it Out:
And I wouldn't refer to Dan as a "partisan hack" as trjn30 does. Read Dan's blog posted after the press conference. He makes the case that the republican's are more nuanced than "do nothings" as Obama inferred in his press conference. That said: WO!!!! Everyone... red or blue, take a breath and wait and see. It's too early to know much about this stimulus bill and what it will do for America. One note to contemplate, though, is we are intending to spend money here at HOME on AMERICA... that's a big difference from the war toilet in Iraq.

Posted by: drum_sing | February 12, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

In spite of the Republican obstinacy, the economic stimulus package has emerged largely intact, and, in what can only be described as near record time. This is, for all who have forgotten, what a democracy is all about.

Yes, the Republicans and Blue Dogs bargained hard and we see their imprint on the package as a whole. The larger aspect is the one of inclusion, even if some chose to ignore it, which is something that has been missing for the last eight years.

It appears only a few toes got stepped on in the process, so, let's all hope this sets a tone for future legislation that will, hopefully, start to correct the social and economic imbalance that still poisons the country.

Posted by: hadenuff1 | February 12, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps, if the economy wasn't so dire, more time could have been taken to massage the egos of the GOP. That said, I also think they are hoping the stimulus will fail since every GOP had voted against the bill in the house. I know a few Dems did too but so what? Many in Congress want to be perceived as standing tall against the President and that includes a lot of Dems.

Change won't happen over night and may never happen to the extent the President promised. But he's aggressively tackling the economy on a scale similar to FDR and in less time. Let it ride out. The GOP spent money freely including the TARP which passed with language the GOP would vote for and President Bush would sign.

On another note, where the Census Bureau goes is important. Remember how then canadate Bush wasn't sure he wanted to fill out his census form? It was too invasive. From what I read, the operation of the Census will remain under Commerence but the information will flow to Geitner. I don't remember the reasoning.

Posted by: sander | February 13, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

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