Why House Democrats Are Scared (and Obama Isn’t)

Barack Obama will stand for re-election in 2012, while the 254 Democrats in the House of Representatives will next face the voters in 2010. There will be friction.

For House Democrats, whose ‘10 campaigns will succeed or fail based on the public’s confidence in Obama, it’s essential that voters feel the economy is improving – significantly – by Election Day. The White House, though, is free to take a slightly longer view. Sure, Democratic losses in ‘10 wouldn’t be helpful, but for Obama, the real target date is November 6, 2012.

These conflicting senses of urgency are now coming into focus. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the press that she might be receptive to a second stimulus bill, to supplement the $787 billion package passed by Congress last month. David Obey, her loyal lieutenant and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, then announced that his staff was already at work on a follow-up stimulus program (although he made clear that there are no imminent plans to formally introduce it).

Pelosi and Obey and many of their Democratic colleagues are acting on fears that the first stimulus bill, watered down by compromise, won’t be adequate to get the job done – an argument that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been advancing, and one that was impressed on Pelosi and other top Democrats in a meeting with economists on Tuesday.  

By this line of thinking, the current stimulus will have only a marginal impact on the economy, creating or saving – under the best case scenario – 3.5 millions jobs. With more than 4 million jobs already lost and 610,000 disappearing last month alone, this would probably leave unemployment at or near ten percent at the end of 2010.

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Why House Democrats Are Scared (and Obama Isn’t)