There is one major difference between Republicans in Congress who oppose President Obama’s economic stimulus package and the millions of Americans who need help. The politicians still have a job. It is the height of arrogance and disregard for the welfare of others when politicians seek to score political points on the backs of those who are suffering. That is precisely what the GOP did in its bullheaded “high noon” showdown with President Obama over the $800 billion economic recovery bill.
Fair-minded individuals should see past their own personal agendas when confronted with a crisis the magnitude of our recession. Instead, Republicans have chosen to start laying the groundwork for the 2010 midterm elections at the expense of the nation’s economic security. So when the federal government announces job losses of almost 600,000 for a single month, preceded by two consecutive quarters that saw over one million jobs lost; the GOP decided that the most valuable role it could play in this time of national crisis was that of curmudgeon. It has been shameful for a party that continually claims it represents ordinary citizens.
Republicans could have played a very constructive role in the debate on the stimulus bill in the House and Senate but felt it had more to gain politically by being divisive. There was room for negotiation as President Obama swung the door wide open and sought out the minority in an open and straightforward manner. Instead, Republicans chose to resort to tired and well-worn clichés in the face of a national crisis. The memory of their November disaster appears to have quickly faded because party stalwarts acted as if the GOP and not Democrats had been given a mandate by the electorate. Too many Republicans are behaving as if “business as usual’ will suffice.
The American public spoke loudly on November 4 when it rejected four more years of Republican rule when it sent Senator John McCain down in defeat. The outcome of the presidential election was not just reflective of the public’s preference between two candidates; it was a referendum on the eight years of the Bush administration’s economic policies. While other issues played out in the background, the economy was foremost on voters’ minds as poll after poll indicated. Unbelievably, the Republican Party got it wrong last November and they traveled that same errant path in the manner in which they tried to railroad the stimulus bill.
For its part, the Obama administration needed to do a better job communicating the support it received from Republican governors and Republican voters. It started to do some of that on Tuesday when Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, introduced President Obama during a town hall meeting in Fort Myers. By rolling out the Republican governors who supported the economic recovery bill, the White House could have painted Congressional Republicans as working against the national interest.
I was certain that after unemployment figures were released last Friday the Republicans would come to their senses. No such luck. Senator McConnell and company seemed hell bent on presenting a unified front against the recovery package. Even when news of more mass layoffs hit, the Senate minority was unmoved in its opposition to the plan. In the end only the efforts of three moderate Republicans – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania – saved the bill from defeat. It was a telling moment for an administration that has staked much of its reform agenda on building a bipartisan framework in Washington.
Hopefully this Congress and President can now get on with the business of restoring our nation’s economy and putting Americans back to work. Contrary to Republican claims that the bill was nothing more than a giant earmark, the intent of the legislation, as repeatedly asserted by President Obama, is to create jobs. It’s always been about jobs. It’s why Republican governors abandoned any pretense of partisanship because as administrators actually responsible for their state’s economic fortunes, they know this legislation is required to start digging out of the hole we find ourselves. A hole many of those same Senate Republicans who opposed this bill helped dig by their blind allegiance to President Bush.
This has also been a civics lesson for those supporters of President Obama who naively thought “change” would come to the nation’s capital as easy as chanting “yes we can.” Until the Democrats can gain a 60 vote majority in the Senate, the party will have to cut deals like the one struck on the stimulus package to get legislation passed.