President Barack Obama got the $825 (or $1.2 trillion over a decade) stimulus package through the House of Representatives but the 244 to 188 vote is a hollow victory indeed. Without a single Republican voting for the bill, his high-profile visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday came to exactly naught – at least on the House side.
Obama vowed to change Washington and usher in a new post-partisan era. The the mood music and optics were pitch perfect as he trekked up to the Hill. Republicans praised his gesture, welcomed his sincere demeanour and appreciated his willingness to listen.
Problem was, he wanted only to listen and did not want to act on what Republicans said. When he was asked if he would re-structure the package to include more tax cuts, he reportedly responded: “Feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part.”
He apparently added: “ I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.”
That’s fine. No doubt Obama will indeed get beaten up on Fox News. But his failure to get even the squishiest moderate Republican – including the 11 entertained in the White House by Rahm Emanuel last night – to back him is not merely a big score for Rep Eric Cantor, Republican Whip, and the rest of the GOP leadership.
It also shows that it is not just Fox, the loony Right or Rush Limbaugh – or however else you might want to characterise the opposition in order to marginalise it – who had grave misgivings about the content of the bill.
The Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill badly miscalculated by treating the bill as a victor’s charter. Not that it seemed to bother Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, who grinned from ear to ear as she announced the result of the vote.
Obama said yesterday he did not feel he had ownership of the bill. Be that as it may, if it goes through the Senate in similar fashion and is signed into law then – the efforts of Pelosio and Senator Harry Reid notwithstanding – it will be his and his alone.