My colleague Adam largely misses it in this post about the stimulus bill vote. The bill as passed is the one Obama wanted. He won. The only part "stripped out" was the medicaid contraception provision, and while that's not good public policy, it's also likely to be implemented in the near future. The "bad" tax cuts in the bill were the only other sop to conservatives, and they make up a relatively small share of the overall legislation and have some stimulative effect. That's why it's funny when Adam writes, "The dude is almost as popular as chocolate chip cookies, how much more political capital does he need before he actually gets what he says he wants?"

In fact, the administration got everything it says it wanted; indeed, much more than they were predicting in the past months (remember when the stimulus was forecast at $500 billion? And then $750 billion? Now it's at $855 and counting). Even though some observers on the left think the infrastructure investment portion could be larger, it's not clear that it could be: the administration seems to have maxed out the government's ability to invest quickly, so much so that their estimates on how fast they can spend exceed those of the Congressional Budet Office. As well, Republicans are right, to a point, when they say they didn't have a hand in negotiating the bill in the House -- that's why Obama had to step in to to give them the one concession he did. And it's certainly not the administration's fault that more Republicans than Democrats are on TV. The blame for that foolishness falls squarely in the media's wheelhouse.

Don't forget that the upcoming Senate and conference votes are important, too, and that Obama's outreach to the GOP may pay dividends then. Note as well that the bill could improve in both of those settings. I was disappointed that no House Republicans voted for the bill, but they've made a stark political choice: to be obstructionist when the American people want action, even in the face of serious outreach from the new preisdent. It's a decision they may come to regret, but the Democrats can only score political points on it if the outreach was serious. It also gives the new administration tactical flexibility to refute GOP proposals in the future without looking churlish.

Ultimately, though, Obama meant what he said about a new approach to politics in Washington. The way the Bush administration approached the legislative process -- ignore all dissent -- was something progressives didn't like, and neither did the American people at large. Returning to that approach may make those of us on the left feel good, but it won't impress the public. Many, including me, have been demanding that the Democrats pass the bill they want and campaign on it, ignoring the the objections of the opposition. Strangely, Obama has done just that, all while maintaining his reputation as a pragamatic leader who will listen to all sides. That's the point.

-- Tim Fernholz

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