A Question about the Stimulus Bill

Kevin Drum, quoting Joe Klein, hopes the press (which we know to be so terribly biased against leftish ideas and new government spending) doesn't smear Obama's economic plan like they did Clinton's.

I won't get into all that, but I want to ask a related question:  To what extent does current legislation actually represent an Obama plan at all?  Maybe the press coverage has been poor, but hasn't Obama really been forced to put a happy face on and accept the half-baked mess that comes out of Congress?  Hasn't Obama really taken the role as Majority Whip, trying to wrangle votes for an existing piece of legislation, rather than actually crafting its framework?

I would define one of the key aspects of Presidential leadership as bringing some adult supervision to Congress, and particularly his own party in Congress.  Bush CERTAINLY never was able or willing to do so, and I don't see evidence of Obama doing so either.  Congress is running amuck, and every week seems to add another $100 billion in random pork to the bill.  In content, my perception is that the stimulus bill is Nancy Pelosi's bill but Obama's blame.  Or am I missing something?  Has the Administration had more involvement in the crafting of this bill than it appears?

Update: Jane Hamsher at Huffpo (HT to a commenter) argues that my understanding above is a result of furious Administration spin:

The story of the morning seems to be that the Obama team is unhappy with Nancy Pelosi and the House committee chairs for delivering up such a liberal, pork-laden bill that they themselves really had nothing to do with.

"Anonymous staffers" are fanning out to fuel the fiction that "during the transition Summers, his deputy Jason Furman, and the White House's top Congressional liason, Phil Schiliro, laid out the broad principles they wanted the bill to adhere to, but when it came to actual content, they deferred to the chairmen."

Except that it's not true.  The Obama transition team has been working on the substance of the bill from day one.  Their first step was to go to the Association of Mayors, the National Governors' Associations and other non-congressional groups and say "give us all your shovel-ready projects."  That and other provisions written by the Obama team became the spine of the bill.  It went through only three committee markups, and moved through the House at lightening speed in a way that made many House chairs unhappy, with the notable exception of Dave Obey (now also under attack) who helped push it through quickly.

The House bill is notable not only for its size but also because it had no earmarks, which are the lifeblood of House members, the way they show their constituents what they're doing for them.  As one person knowledgable about the writing of the bill says, "if you're in the House why would you write a bill without earmarks unless you didn't write the bill?"

But with public opinion quickly turning against the bill, and the House Republicans claiming the moral high ground as they held formation to oppose him, how could Obama be distanced from responsibility for elements of the bill under GOP attack and remain above the fray?  That seemed to be the locus of White House concern, and according to those familiar with what happened, the "polarizing" Nancy Pelosi was designated to take the fall.

Interesting.  Well, I don't often comment on politics per se  (vs. actual proposals) because I am so naive about this stuff.  Hamsher could in turn be shilling for Pelosi.  I just don't know enough.

By the way Hamsher tends to imply that it is a good bill with bad PR.  Phhhth.  It is an awful bill, and I am willing to bet that I have read more of it and the CBO report than she.


  1. Larry Sheldon:

    "To what extent does current legislation actually represent an Obama plan at all?"

    I'm sorry, the question doesn't make any sense.

    It is like asking "To what extent does the current landfill actually represent sewage plant output."

    Oh, wait, let me think about that some more.....

  2. Link:

    There's a piece over on Huffington Post that says that Obama & Co had a bigger hand in the legislation than they've let on ... and that they're now letting Pelosi take the blame.

    It fits with Obama's MO of creating a crisis and then stepping in as the great mediator. I expect we'll tire of it, Pelosi included.


  3. Sly Fox:

    I think O is more interested in achieving a landmark bill in record time to increase his cred as a leader.(read relection imperative) Unfortuneately he has no experience or knowledge to guide him re the merits of this bill and is totally dependent on his party's leaders. In other words "He really doesn't get it" He is an empty suit.

  4. Mesa Econoguy:

    Does anyone really care what Huffington says? Or Kevin Dumb?

    More improtantly, does anyone actually know how big the stimulus is?

  5. Link:

    Stimulate THIS!

    Behind the scenes Obama and Axelrod are high-fiving each other, as they're about to make a major advance in pushing their agenda.

    They've built a consensus that the Stimulus Bill is necessary to avert catastrophe, even though most agree that it's too big and too pork-ridden. Almost all the Democrats in Congress have fallen in line, and a few key Republican Senators have been turned. The debate is shifting to whether an extra $100 to $150 billion is in or out ... Obama and Axelrod have won and are lighting up cigars.

    The Stimulus Bill will have little "pound for pound" effect on the current recession ... even the CBO is saying that. That's because it won't really kick in until 2010. But it will enable Obama to get funding for many of the stupid "yes we can" ideas he talked about on the campaign trail. Going into the 2010 mid-term elections, Obama can tell his base that he delivered.

    I'm still trying to figure out the implications of all this spending ... how much of it is deluded ... and how much of it is Machiavellian clever.

    Spending for "energy independence" ... for example ... seems largely delusional. Little benefit will come from this spending. We could buy a lot of nuclear reactors with a few hundred billion, and actually get a result.

    As to Machiavellian clever, the single worst thing in the Stimulus Bill is "tax rebate checks." There are a large number of Americans who don't pay any income tax. Many will now start getting a check from the government, paid for by the rest of us. This is pernicious, and can have far-reaching implications.

    There are a lot more voters who make less than $50,000 than there are those who make more than $250,000, so Obama & Co have figured out that they can buy the votes of those making less, and get the "rich" to pay for it. As we get near future elections, look for Obama & Co to increase these payments, while redefining "rich" downwards. It's a means to buy a permanent voting majority ... and to level society ... which is part of their master plan.

    To Mesa Economy: I look at Huffington Post to see what the other side is saying. Headlines alone often suffice. This can be informative.

    There's a media consensus that Pelosi is taking advantage of Obama over the Stimulus Bill, and that may be true. But after reading the Huffington Post piece ... which says that that Obama & Co have had a big "behind the scenes" hand in the legislation all a long, I suspect the opposite. If so, we're all being played. "... but I didn't know until this day, that it was Barzini all along."

  6. MJ:

    Whether it has been Obama's bill or not, he has been the one yelling "Fire!" in order to get it passed quickly without much scrutiny, just like Paulson and the Bush Administration did with TARP last fall.

    By the way, since it now appears likely that a second round of TARP will be passed, can we at least call it what it is? I suggest TANC (Temporary Assistance to Needy Corporations). That way, the next time a member of Congress sounds the clarion call for welfare reform, we'll know where to start.