There is a pattern emerging in Washington in the early days of the new administration: The dregs of the once proud Republican Party, having learned nothing from its stinging electoral defeat, lacking moderate counterweights and not having the votes to hold up the Democratic agenda, are rejecting President Obama's invitation for bipartisanship by rolling the dice in the hopes that the 2010 mid-term elections arrive before an economic recovery and happy days will be here again for them -- just not most Americans.
Voting unanimously in the House against Obama's $819 billion stimulus package on Wednesday night was a gamble that the country they profess to love more than the Democrats ever could will sink even deeper into despair. That way Obama and his army of spendthrifts in Congress will shoulder the blame for not being able to pull the economy out of the nosedive that is George Bush's greatest legacy.
This in theory would allow the GOP to emerge re-energized as it did in 1994 after mid-term elections two years into the Clinton administration. But the climate today compared to 16 years ago could not be more different. (And, by the by, the Democrats retained a healthy majority in 1934 two years after FDR's electoral mandate despite the continuing Depression).
A casual observer might be led to believe that House Republicans are channeling not some higher entity like Ronald Reagan but that pillar of Keynesian probity -- Rush Limbaugh -- in still refusing to endorse the stimulus package even after a number of their objections were satisfied in the spirit of bipartisanship. Meanwhile, their lock-step objection to subsidizing health insurance as part of the package is a real keeper: It's not because that isn't desperately needed. It is, but it might lead to universal health care. (Sigh.)
While I view the package as too much of a grab bag, I am convinced that government spending is more effective at creating jobs than tax cuts, although there are nearly $300 billion in such cuts. What this package is meant to do is to stimulate, and in theory it should do exactly that through propping up unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid while funneling aid to state governments so that they won't have to cut the services and employees who are especially crucial in tough times.
My guess is that the Republican gamble will fail not because it leaves their short-term fate not to smart politicking or policymaking but to factors well beyond their grasp, but it is probable that while unemployment will continue to tick upwards for a few months before the economy finally bottoms out as the effects of the stimulus package begin to take hold.
There will not be a sudden turnaround. The hole the Bush administration dug is too deep and Americans understand, as they did in 1932, that a recovery will take time. But jobs will become available, credit will loosen up and home prices will inch upwards, the result being that the Republicans still will be wandering in the wilderness in 2011 wondering where the heck their mojo went.
Why then are the House Republicans trotting out the same tired tax-cutting, liberal bashing talking points while siding with bankers and not beleaguered homeowners -- the very wedge issues that lost them the White House and Congress in the first place? Because bipartisanship is a noble concept only when they are promoting it. (Recall the support for TARP legislation last fall.)
Blaming Obama for reaching out and giving him the finger in response is deeply cynical, but this crowd is bereft of fresh ideas, let alone a workable vision for America.
Who then are these all white and predominately male Republicans appealing to? Their diminishing base in the diminishing number of Red States, now at somewhere between five and seven. In other words, conservative talk-radio listeners. And woe befall the Republican who has a contrary word about Pope Rush. Just ask Phil Gingery, who was censured for suggesting that not everything that emanates from that blowhard's mouth is gospel.
We can anticipate that Senate Republicans will be less cavalier when they take up the stimulus package next week as some members of their caucus cross the aisle to vote with Democrats.
Resuscitating the economy is what counts, but impressions also matter.
And the impression that most voters will take away from the first 10 days of a new administration is that Obama, who is hugely popular at the moment, has tried to be reasonable while House Republicans tried to put a stake through the heart of a new era of bipartisanship before it had even begun.Top photograph by Exfordy