Anyone with a grasp of modern domestic political history should have seen last week’s stimulus package impasse in the Senate coming.
It was not at all surprising that Republicans loudly demagogued the package as a massive dose of pork, even as their examples of “pork” accounted for a tiny fraction of the overall bill. Nor was it surprising that the G.O.P. – the same party that added nearly $8 trillion to the national debt between the Reagan-Bush years and George W. Bush’s presidency – suddenly expressed horror at the idea of deficit spending.
And it certainly wasn’t a shock that Republicans, even as Democrats accused them of playing Russian Roulette with the economy, maintained a united congressional front – one that forced Democrats in the House to rely on a party-line vote to push the package through their chamber and that compelled exasperated Senate Democrats to seek a compromise that could attract just enough Republican votes to kill a G.O.P.-led filibuster in their chamber.
For Democrats, this progression of events was as maddening as it was unavoidable. This kind of unyielding opposition is what the modern congressional Republican Party, one dominated by conservatives from ultra-red districts where Sarah Palin would easily outpoll Barack Obama, does best. This is not a crowd likely to be swayed by warnings that inaction might cause a wholesale economic catastrophe. Why, that’s just fear-mongering from the liberal media!
Measured against these realities, Democrats ought to be feeling pretty good right now. Last Friday, they reached a deal with three Republicans senators – Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter – that will allow a stimulus package to clear that chamber. It is slightly different from the House version (mainly, to the understandable disappointment of many Democrats, because the Senate compromise eliminates tens of billions of dollars in money for education and aid to cash-strapped states), but the overlap between the two is substantial. A final version should now clear both chambers within a week.
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