A struggling stimulus

A STRUGGLING STIMULUS…. President Obama probably thought this would be easier. He won a sweeping victory in November, and entered office with a huge approval rating. His party enjoys big majorities in both the House and Senate. In the midst of a global economic crisis, the president presented an ambitious stimulus package, which enjoyed support from economists, the business community, state officials, and the public. For a while, the most common criticism of the proposal was that it wasn’t big enough, and wasn’t prepared to spend enough money.

That was before the White House lost control of the debate.

Watching the reaction from Republicans and most news outlets, I keep thinking of an analogy. There’s a nine-alarm fire, and Obama’s the fire chief. He wants to send the cavalry, hoping to save lives and contain the fire from spreading out of control, while simultaneously taking fire-prevention steps for the future. Soon, Republicans start wondering if 2% of the tools on the fire-engines are entirely necessary for fighting the fire. Democrats think nine trucks is an excessive number, and maybe if Obama sent seven, it’ll make Republicans happier. (Said Sen. Ben Nelson, “I don’t know, hundreds of gallons of water sounds like an awful lot.”)

Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, and Joe Scarborough try to convince the community that Obama is making a big mistake trying to put out a fire with water, which is just socialism in disguise.

Conservatives want to know why Obama won’t just give people a tax cut, so the public can buy fire-extinguishers, axes, and Dalmatians of their own. The Washington Post runs four op-eds from Amity Shlaes, arguing that Fire Chief Roosevelt overreacted during the last nine-alarm fire, and it would have gone out on its own if he’d just left it alone.

And while the fire keeps burning, the Senate wants to figure out how to address the fire in a way that costs less and satisfies the concerns of “centrists.”

Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy. […]

Moderate Republicans are trying to trim the bill by as much as $200 billion, although Democrats working with those GOP senators have not agreed to a specific figure.

It’s unclear whether the Senate lacks the votes to pass the stimulus plan, or whether the Senate lacks the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster of the plan. I think it’s the latter.