Last night, President Obama diverted from his prepared remarks at the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference and ended up giving a really excellent defense of the stimulus legislation:

But what I have also said is -- don't come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis. (Applause.) You know, all of us here -- imperfect. And everything we do and everything I do is subject to improvement. Michelle reminds me every day how imperfect I am. (Laughter.) So I welcome this debate. But come on, we're not -- we are not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin. (Applause.)

We can't embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face; that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees. I don't care whether you're driving a hybrid or an SUV -- if you're headed for a cliff, you've got to change direction. (Applause.) That's what the American people called for in November, and that's what we intend to deliver. (Applause.)

... Now, in fact, when we announced the bill, you remember -- this is only about, what, two weeks ago? When we announced the framework -- and we were complimented by Republicans, saying, boy, this is a balanced package, we're pleasantly surprised. And suddenly, what was a balanced package needs to be put out of balance? Don't buy those arguments.

Then there's the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.) And when you start asking, well, what is it exactly that is such a problem that you're seeing, where's all this waste and spending? Well, you know, you want to replace the federal fleet with hybrid cars. Well, why wouldn't we want to do that? (Laughter.) That creates jobs for people who make those cars. It saves the federal government energy. It saves the taxpayers energy. (Applause.)

So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? (Laughter and applause.) That's the whole point. No, seriously. (Laughter.) That's the point. (Applause.)

It really is up to Obama to define the politics of this moment, and that's what he is doing here: making explicit that bipartisanship entails an open mind but not a willingness to make bad policy. It's also a pleasant return to campaign form, when the president was at his most devasting speaking plainly about foolish policy ideas. Obviously this was a targeted audience -- Democratic members of Congress -- but it would be great to see some of this on national TV. Read the whole speech after the jump.

-- Tim Fernholz

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