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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Votes a-Popping

Today the House is scheduled to vote on the economic stimulus package. It is almost universally expected to pass, though yesterday’s vote on the rule for its consideration was a little dicey, with 27 Democrats (including 24 of the 52 Blue Dogs) voting against their leadership and the administration. The unanimous GOP vote against the rule wasn’t that unusual, but the number of Republicans voting for final passage may not be much higher.
According to Jared Allen of The Hill, a larger defection of Blue Dogs on the rules vote was headed off by a letter from the President to House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey supporting a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules for future legislation once the stimulus package is enacted. That pledge wasn’t a big surprise, but its timing indicated nervousness about the earlier indications from Blue Dogs that they’d give Obama a pass on the usual budget hawkery for purposes of enacting the stimulus package.
It’s pretty clear by now that the GOP case against the stimulus package is going to be less about its overall size or its necessity, and probably less about spending-versus-tax-cuts than earlier propaganda hinted, and more about “frivolous spending” or “expansion of big government” or “pork.” The idea is that this isn’t an economic stimulus package at all, but decades worth of pent-up “liberal” policy changes. And that’s why GOPers are focusing on family planning money and “welfare” and reseeding the National Mall. It’s an effort to do the same number on Obama as Republicans did on Bill Clinton in 1993 with his “stimulus bill,” which may or may not have funded a municipal swimming pool somewhere in Texas, and in 1994 on the Omnibus Crime Bill, with its famous “midnight basketball” provisions.
It’s anybody’s guess whether these attack lines will get any serious traction with the public, or sway any moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the Senate. The Senate will almost certainly conduct some surgery to remove spending categories that are particularly subject to parody (as happened in the House at the last minute, when “reseeding the Mall,” and, more controversially, Medicaid contraceptive services were deleted). But the odds that something pretty close to Obama’s original proposal will be enacted remain very high.
Progressives need to remind the consumers of Republican attacks on the stimulus package that including popular policy changes that also boost the economy is both efficient and desirable–a huge “two-fer.” It’s also worth remembering that the closest thing structurally to this bill in recent American history was the gigantic Reagan budget and tax packages of 1981, which included a vast array of conservative-oriented policy changes in the guise of boosting the economy while reducing the budget deficit (both of which it failed to do). The budget portion of the Reagan legislative offensive was enacted via a floor substitute in the House that virtually no member of Congress had read. Compared to that vast and hastily-drafted hodge-podge, the Obama stimulus package is a paragon of clarity and transparency.

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