Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Stimulus Pie
“This is a screwed up, month-late Christmas tree with a bunch of thrift store ornaments.” – DC Duck
Apparently, not everyone is happy with the stimulus package. Marcus has commented on the question of unity surrounding the Obama team’s approach to the stimulus and posed two good questions: how does 44 deal with Congressional Republicans now that they’ve refused the offer, and what should the stimulus look like?
To tackle the first question, the unity approach marks a welcome change from the zero-sum game where the party in power gets its way and the opposition is frozen out until eight years later, when all policies are instantly reversed, and the only way to prevent extremes is to bog the nation down by electing an executive and legislature of different parties. Of all the childish things it is time to put aside, this one in particular should pass into its mortal maturity un-mourned.
Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans don’t seem to see it that way, and unity, by definition, requires consent by more than one actor, alas. What to do with the recalcitrant Republicans?
Imagine the stimulus package as a pie. The pie is made up of dollars and of political capital, and 44 offered the Republicans an approximate 40% of it (one-third of its money in tax cuts, some cosmetic victories by cutting out the provisions for contraception) – less than half of the pie, and certainly a great deal less than what they would have wanted, but nonetheless much more than a minority party, recently destroyed in a general election, would have any right to expect.
The Republicans refused. The problem they face is that 44 and the Democratic Congress have only to retain Democratic support and win over two Republican Senators to get a cloture-proof majority in the Senate and pass whatever stimulus pie they choose – not a hard job considering that all Obama has to do is convince two Republican Senators not to be the people who stopped the stimulus pie. If that isn’t leverage enough, he’s giving away cash like it’s going out of style, and it’s hard to believe there aren’t two Republican Senators who’d like a bridge constructed or a bus-fleet built in their state.
How to deal with R’s after the stimulus pie goes through is a new question. Marcus, and he’s not alone, is inclined to take a partisan line – 44 offered the R’s a chance at unity, they declined, so they get to be a beaten-up minority for the next few years. My own view on this is that 44 must stick with his unity approach – for the next pie, he must go back and offer them 40% again. If they take it, so much the better. If not, 44 and the Dems simply take more for themselves, the point being that negotiations don’t start with the Republicans demanding more and compromising at 40% - the deal starts at 40% and only gets worse for them. The next pie, 40% again, and so on.
This changes the game from a piece of public ritual drama where two sides are seen demanding 100% their way and then reaching the inevitable compromise, to one of real collaboration – the majority gets 60%, the minority gets 40%, and we move on to the next issue. The downside is that the ruling party, which could probably get a much bigger piece of the pie, has to give up a bit of its share in the name of unity government. The upside is that there’s a real chance that some lasting policy might come out of such a system.
Of course, Republicans could continue to not play, refusing their 40% on a regular basis. The downside is that this sinks any hope of unity. The political upside is that the Republican leadership has to return, time and again, to the rank-and-file and explain why they turned down a fair deal in favor of a worse one, and the rank-and-file must go back to voters and explain same.
Of course, the question of how much of the pie Republicans should get is only one part of the problem. Perhaps a more serious one is whether or not the pie is big enough. For a man who claims to like pie so much, the President has made this one perilously small. More on that to come.