For the defense

FOR THE DEFENSE…. The point of President Obama’s media blitz yesterday wasn’t to talk about, or accept responsibility for, the breakdown of Tom Daschle’s HHS nomination, but rather, to mount a defense for the pending economic stimulus package. The timing was bad, but the goal was good — much of the coverage of the debate has not only been slanted, it’s also been frequently wrong. A plan that should enjoy overwhelming public support doesn’t.

And while the political world absorbs the news over Daschle’s withdrawal, it’s worth emphasizing the fact that Obama’s remarks in support of the stimulus proposal were quite good. ABC’s Charlie Gibson, for example, said that “some people” believe the recovery plan “is pork-stuffed, and that it really doesn’t stimulate.” The president replied:

“Well, Charlie, if you take a look at the bill, the fact is, there are no earmarks in this bill, which, by the way, some of the critics can’t claim for legislation they’ve voted for over the last eight years. There’s no earmarks in it. We’ve made sure that there aren’t individual pork projects in there.

“The criticisms have generally been around some policy initiatives that were placed in the bill that I think are actually good policy, but some people may say is not going to actually stimulate jobs quickly enough. I think that there’s legitimate room for working through those issues over the next several weeks to make sure that we get the best possible bill. But here’s the thing that I think we have to understand. The economy is in desperate straits. What I won’t do is adopt the same economic theories that helped land us in the worst economy since the Great Depression. What I will do is work with anybody of good faith to make sure that we can come up with the best possible package to not only create jobs and provide support to families, but also to lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth.”

Gibson then misquoted the Congressional Budget Office, before asking if Obama would accept more infrastructure investment, and more concessions to make Republicans happy.

“Well, keep in mind, for example, some want to put more infrastructure in the bill, and they’re also complaining that it doesn’t spin out fast enough. In some cases, there are contradictions there. I mean, we may want to spend on a whole bunch of great infrastructure, but it may take seven or eight years to do it, in which case we’re vulnerable for the criticism that it’s not spinning out fast enough. I think that in a package of this sort, that has to go to Congress with 535 opinions, at least, then there’s going to be some give and take.

“What I’ve said is that any good idea thrown out there to improve this legislation I’m for. But I want to be absolutely clear here that the overwhelming bulk of the package is sound, is designed to put people back to work, help states that are in desperate straits, help families who are losing jobs and health care, and it’s designed to make sure that we’ve got green energy jobs for the future. In fact, most of the programs that have been criticized as part of this package amount to less than one percent of the overall package. And it makes for good copy, but here’s the thing — we can’t afford to play the usual politics at a time when the economy continues to worsen.”

Gibson then suggested Speaker Pelosi engaged in some “in-your-face trash-talking to the Republicans” on the stimulus package.

“Well, I think what Speaker Pelosi also said was that she wanted to sit down with them and talk to them and, in fact, included some of their ideas in the package. I mean, keep in mind, when I first released the framework for our plan, we were complimented by the Republicans for the fact that about $300 billion of the package was in the form of tax cuts. I was criticized by members of my own party.

“Now, that hasn’t changed much. The only thing that’s changed is the politics of it. And I’m less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake. I’m interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible.”

That’s a pretty forceful and effective defense. Perhaps Obama can repeat it again this morning. And this afternoon. And tomorrow. And non-stop until senators actually pass the thing.