Stimulus Package Passes House Without 1 Republican Vote

See, Mr. President, we told you you don't need Republicans.

From The AP:

In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration's plan to revive a badly ailing economy.

The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama's pleas for bipartisan support.

"We don't have a moment to spare," Obama declared at the White House as congressional allies hastened to do his bidding in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

To Obama's credit, notice The AP's frame here: it's a "swift victory" for Obama who has been making "pleas for bipartisan support." Obama is winning this debate even though the Republicans think they can make him out to be the bad guy who is going back on his promises. Well played, Mr. President, so far. Unfortunately, presumably the Senate version IS going to need at least one Republican vote although I suspect that won't be as difficult for Obama to secure as it was in the House. Debate in the Senate could begin as early as Monday.

Update [2009-1-28 19:3:56 by Todd Beeton]:Note to self: make a list of all the Republicans who voted to bail out the banks but not to invest in the infrastructure and job creation of...ya know...America and stuff.

Update [2009-1-28 19:37:2 by Todd Beeton]:Roll call is HERE. Note that 11 Democrats voted against the bill, 10 of whom are the usual suspects and Rep. Kanjorski.

As for what the Republicans could possibly be thinking, Elana Schor at TPMDC has this thought:

But maybe this was the Republicans' plan all along. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his troops can start the next act in the show and ask for just a few more concessions in order to give the stimulus its bipartisan stripes.

Either way, with GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) signaling her support, its passage in the Senate by next week is looking assured.

Update [2009-1-28 19:54:34 by Todd Beeton]:Oh. My. God. Via dday, check out how Rep. Hoekstra (R-MI) is framing the vote on his Twitter feed:

Interesting! The bi partisan vote on stimulus was no. It wasn't the winning vote but the only vote that received both R and D votes.

Talk about Orwellian. You see, Republicans voted unanimously NO and THEY'RE the bipartisan ones! Nice. You see, this is what you get when you fetichize bipartisanship. Can we just agree that it's overrated and that we'd be a lot better off if Democrats just passed everything on a party line vote and move on?

There's more...

Mass Transit Gets Big Boost In Stimulus Package

Some good news from the stimulus front. The House is still debating the bill and voting on amendments, a very important one of which -- the DeFazio/Nadler amendment to increase funding for mass transit and rail by $3 billion -- has passed on voice vote.

This update from TPMDC is especially encouraging:

Nadler just noted that hundreds of millions of dollars of this newly approved cash would go to often under-funded priorities in the crowded urban areas of New York and California. From his statement:

This amendment is crucial for fair distribution of transportation spending between urban and non-urban parts of the county. ... Investment in transit is a major step toward putting Americans to work right away in green jobs, reducing emissions and improving our transit systems.

Greater Greater Washington has a liveblog of the debate on the amendment:

Oregon's Peter DeFazio: "Americans are loving their transit systems to death. There's $160 billion of deferred maintenance on these systems... there are 10,000 options for new buses, buses made in America. They can't be executed because our transit systems don't have the money." Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), mentioned light rail in Houston. "This bill must be a jobs bill. The [Chicago Transit Authority] head ... said she could spend $500 million tomorrow" putting people to work, added Dan Lipinski of Illinois. "Nothing will create more jobs than funding transportation infrastructure," said Staten Island's new Congressman, Democrat Michael McMahon.

On a related note, Rep. Jeff Flake's (R-AZ) amendment that would have removed all funding from Amtrak has been defeated. Conservatives' beef with the government funding Amtrak: why should the government continue to subsidize a company that isn't able to turn a profit? Corinne Brown (D-FL) took this argument down:

"There is no form of transportation that pays for itself. None whatsoever. Whether we're talking about rail, airlines, cars, none of that. We subsidize all of that."

Update [2009-1-28 18:10:41 by Todd Beeton]:A Siegel has more at dailyKos.

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The Diminishing Returns Of Obama's Use Of Rightwing Talking Points

One of my issues with Barack Obama the candidate was that he would always begin arguments with rightwing talking points. Sure, he'd end up where you wanted him to be and, sure, the rhetorical strategy he was employing -- to disarm his opponents by telling them they're right before telling them how wrong they are -- was obvious, but the fact remained that he was reinforcing rightwing talking points rather than destroying them.

Well, we see what it got him: the presidency. In retrospect, it's hard to argue Obama's strategy didn't work, especially considering the magnitude of his victory. But now that he's won, now that he's legislating, now that he had the American people at "I, Barack Hussein Obama," the use of this rhetorical device is bearing less and less fruit. Take just a couple of examples from his press conference on the stimulus today.

Here's Obama talking about how non-partisan the stimulus bill is:

What makes an idea sound is not whether it's Democrat or Republican but whether it makes good economic sense for its workers.

"Democrat?" Who's writing his speeches, now, Rush?

And then speaking about job creation, he said:

...as these CEOs well know, business not government is the engine of job growth in this country.

And if it were government, would that be a bad thing? Only to the right.

So here we have our Democratic president throwing the right rhetorical bone after rhetorical bone -- not to mention concession after concession -- and all for what? The American people are already on board and it's quite clear that he's not about to win anymore Republican votes for his plan (not that he needs them.)

As David Schuster observed:

Today's vote in the House is still expected to fall along partisan lines.

Exactly. It's going to be a partisan vote anyway and you know President Obama will be blamed for breaking his promise of working across the aisle despite his Republican outreach and his apparently good faith spirit of cooperation, so what is he gaining here?

Instead, President Obama, I wish you'd learn a lesson from Sen. Sherrod Brown, who discussed the stimulus package in these terms on CNN earlier today:

The Republican answer to everything is tax cuts, we've tried it for eight years it hasn't worked for the economy, that's what they always say...Their answer is always tax cuts no matter what the question is and it simply hasn't worked. We've had eight years of deregulation, privatization and tax cuts for the rich and look where it's gotten us. It's not a surprise that this economy's in such bad shape because of those policies, we don't want to do more of them.

Amen.

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Bring On The Stimulus

For weeks, Barack Obama has been framing his economic stimulus package as an umbrella bill encompassing much of his broad domestic agenda. Now that President Obama is in office, the bill is no longer an abstraction and the work to pass it begins in earnest.

From Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama, seeking to sell his stimulus package to the public, promoted plans to build up clean-energy industries, expand health-insurance coverage and boost security at U.S. ports as part of the broader effort to jump-start the sputtering U.S. economy.

"If we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse," Obama said today in his first weekly radio and video address as president.

The administration released a report today outlining some of Obama's priorities for the two-year recovery package. They include loan guarantees and other support to open up credit for renewable-energy investors, providing health insurance coverage to almost 8.5 million people who've lost jobs and enhancing security at 90 ports.

As I've written several times before, the message Obama is sending to potential opponents to the bill is a sort of dare: "to oppose me on health care, on energy, on infrastructure, is to oppose economic recovery."

You can read the House version of the stimulus bill HERE. You can watch President Obama speak about the bill in his weekly national address over at WhiteHouse.Gov.

The President is fulfilling his pledge to open up government by bringing an unprecedented level of transparency to the process.

I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results. We won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works. Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible.

What he doesn't say overtly in this address -- but what is one of the reasons Obama has been using his addresses on YouTube and now at WhiteHouse.gov to take his plan for economic recovery straight to the people -- is that he knows that if the American people are on board, it will be far more difficult for their representatives to oppose it. At over $800 billion, the package is higher than many Republicans are comfortable with and while Obama really only needs 1 Republican Senator to vote Yes -- assuming he has all the Ds and Is -- politically, Obama would prefer for this to pass in a bi-partisan way. Hence the coming effort to get Republicans on board.

Greg Sargent reports that just such an advertising blitz is set to begin next week.

I've just learned that an ad campaign blitzing a half dozen GOP Senators will be launched in the middle of next week by one such outside group, Americans United For Change, which will air ads for at least four days pressuring the Senators to back Obama's stimulus package. [...]

"The ads will say, `Senator, you have a stark choice. Are you going to play politics as usual and embrace the failed policies of the past, or will you support the Obama plan?'" says a Democratic operative involved in the project. "Mentioning the Obama plan is central because his approval rating is at 70% or more. In our polling, he is a dominant messenger."

The ads will target those Republicans who are widely viewed as the most likely allies for the Democrats in the Senate: Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Of course, Obama's desire for broad bi-partisan support for the measure gives Republicans perhaps more power than they ought to have. Personally, I like Rep. James Clyburn's take:

However, as Obama continued to invest his political capital in a bipartisan push, another Democratic leader suggested that it is up to Republicans to support the new president. "We had an election on November 4, and the American people voted overwhelmingly for the approach being offered by the Democrats," House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) said in an interview scheduled to air over the weekend on C-SPAN. "And I think my Republican friends ought to respect that."

Or as Obama himself reportedly said at a sit down with Republican lawmakers yesterday:

"I won."

The House could take up the bill as soon as Wednesday and the Senate is expected to begin considering it on February 2nd. President Obama's goal is for it to pass Congress and for him to sign it by mid-February.

There's more...

Obama Drops Business Tax Incentive From Stimulus

Barack Obama has always said he wants to surround himself with people who disagree with him and indeed will seek dissenting opinion and that seems to be what he's done on the stimulus package. As Paul Krugman opened his column yesterday:

Last week President-elect Barack Obama was asked to respond to critics who say that his stimulus plan won't do enough to help the economy. Mr. Obama answered that he wants to hear ideas about "how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jump-start the economy."

And as you might expect, Krugman jumped in with his own suggestions, including:

First, Mr. Obama should scrap his proposal for $150 billion in business tax cuts, which would do little to help the economy.

Looks like Obama is listening.

Bowing to widespread Democratic skepticism, President-elect Barack Obama will drop his bid to include a business tax break he once touted in the economic stimulus bill now taking shape on Capitol Hill, aides said last night.

Obama suggested the $3,000-per-job credit last week as one of five individual and business tax incentives aimed at winning Republican support. He proposed $300 billion in tax relief in a bill that could reach $775 billion, and he resurrected the jobs-credit proposal from the campaign trail as one of his main provisions. [...]

Stronger opposition came from Democrats, who dismissed the $3,000 credit to employers for every job created or saved as ripe for abuse and difficult to administer. When no champion for the proposal came forward, the president-elect decided to sideline the incentive.

As the article states, there was significant opposition to this element of his stimulus package from the left, not just Krugman and while Obama clearly made the calculation that there would be no political retaliation from the right for dropping it, it's nice to see his policies take shape with input from critics on the left, not just the right. Bi-partisanship for bi-partisanship's sake is a recipe for disaster. Some concessions to win votes is expected, that's what politics is, not at the expense of doing it right, especially when only 1 Republican vote is truly needed.

There's more...

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