McConnell, Boehner leave the door open a crack

MCCONNELL, BOEHNER LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN A CRACK…. That congressional Republicans would resist an economic rescue package from Barack Obama was a foregone conclusion. The uncertainty surrounded the intensity of the opposition, whether it would be effective, and what, exactly, the GOP would say.

For Democrats in Congress and the transition team, speed is critical. As they see it, the seriousness of the crisis demands immediate action, and it would be ideal for all of us if a stimulus package is on the Oval Office desk after Obama’s inauguration. Yesterday, the Republicans offered an interesting response.

Congressional Republicans objected yesterday to hurried consideration of President-elect Barack Obama’s emerging stimulus proposal, questioning the economic value of many of the projects being floated for inclusion and voicing support for a more methodical process that might delay the legislation’s passage well into February.

Concerned by Democrats’ push to enact the massive bill into law within days of Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R.-Ohio) issued calls for a lengthy vetting of the stimulus proposal, whose price tag could top $850 billion when it is completed next month.

Specifically, GOP leaders would like to see a “week-long cooling-off period” after the legislation is written, so that Republicans can identify spending proposals they deem “irresponsible.”

Now, the obvious response here is to note the irony of McConnell and Boehner complaining about bloated spending bills, government waste, and bills that are rammed through Congress, given their own leadership in recent years. But let’s put that aside for a moment.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but looking over the coordinated responses from McConnell and Boehner, I couldn’t help but notice that neither of them criticized the idea of massive government spending as a way to stimulate the economy. In other words, neither struck a neo-Hooverite position, which seemed to be the GOP message a couple of weeks ago.

I’m inclined to think this is an encouraging sign. Republican leaders on the Hill — who’ve no doubt talked to economists, counted just how small their minorities are, and noticed Obama’s 82% approval rating — implicitly agreed yesterday that a massive rescue package is, in fact, necessary. They want “tough scrutiny and oversight” of the spending, and expect hearings and safeguards, but at no point yesterday did GOP leaders criticize the notion of spending lots of money to help get the economy moving again.

With that in mind, the debate will be over the size and scope of a stimulus package, not whether to have a stimulus package. Given those circumstances, Democrats have reason for at least some optimism.

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