Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What price unity?

This weekend, even the purveyor of conventional wisdom extraordinaire David Gregory noted when interviewing White House economic chief Larry Summers that the $825bn Obama stimulus package may be too small to turn the economy around.

Meanwhile, the ever astute Bill Moyers Journal discussed whether Obama's unity-first approach came at too high a price if it meant trading actual positive economic impact for GOP support.

These two questions are linked and strike at the heart of the political debate about what kind of Administration this is. 

The Administration began by offering $300bn in tax cuts to please GOPers, despite liberal economist views that tax cuts are not as stimulative as spending. At Obama's request, House Dems have now cut $200mn in birth control funding from the stimulus package to placate social conservatives. Obama has met with GOP leaders three times to personally seek common ground. Rahm has had countless phone calls with them. And, oh yes, there's an economic crisis of titanic proportions underway that just yesterday claimed at least 73,000 jobs.

And yet House Republicans have already decided to vote no.

Obama wants bi-partisanship and clearly considers the pursuit of unity through compromise to be both the goal and the approach that guides his first major Congressional challenge, but liberals are right to fear that at a certain point bi-partisanship comes at too high a price. If the GOP continue in their obstinacy then Obama should declare his diplomatic efforts at an end due to Republican intransigence, strip those provisions from the package that were there to assuage conservatives, restore the mass-transit spending that the Administration replaced with tax cuts, and pass a Democrats-only bill that actually stimulates the economy, saves and creates jobs and pays out huge sums for the massive infrastructure challenges that this nation faces.

Such a package would likely cost far more then $825bn and would be a deeply partisan affair but if Nobel Laurette Paul Krugman is right (and he's been right about this whole imbroglio thus far), that's what it'll take to save us from depression. The President may soon be forced to choose between bi-partisan unity and the economy. I think we know what the unemployed would choose.

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