Barack Obama is making an unforced error which will define his
presidency, and could shorten it. It's puzzling why.
It's very much in the president's interest for Congress to pass an
economic stimulus package that will work, because if the economy sinks
further, it eventually will reflect upon him. And it is very much in
the president's interest to have a package that wins support of a
quarter to a third of the Republicans in Congress, both because the
public loves bipartisanship, and to spread the blame if the stimulus
But the president has embraced a porkalooza that does neither, and he's
marketing it with harsh, partisan rhetoric that undermines the image he
cultivated during the campaign. Failure to pass the measure as is would
be a "catastrophe," he says. It's critics are unpatriotic, he implies.
The shrillness of his rhetoric suggests Mr. Obama fears he may lose.
But the great danger to him is that he may win.
More than half a million jobs have been lost in the private sector, yet
there is almost nothing in the upwards of $827 billion stimulus package
that would help businesses, because its purpose is to grow the
government, not the economy.
Though the porkalooza spends more money than there currently is in
circulation (the Federal Reserve estimates that at $800 billion), the
normal procedures of committee hearings and consideration were
short-circuited. There are only two reasons for doing this. The first
is to give the appearance of bold, decisive leadership in response to
the crisis. But this could have been done with a smaller package -- say
a six month suspension of payroll taxes and a $2,000 tax credit for
purchase of a new car in 2009 -- that actually would stimulate the
economy this year, and which would draw strong bipartisan support. The
second is to sneak through payoffs to Democratic constituencies so
blatant they would have been unlikely to survive the normal hearing
process, even with the swollen Democratic majorities in Congress.
"This is probably the worst bill that's been put forward since the
1930s," said Harvard economist Robert Barro. "It's wasting a tremendous
amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don't think will
work, so I don't think the expenditure stuff is going to have the
intended effect. And the tax cutting isn't really geared towards
incentives...It's more along the lines of throwing money at people. On
both sides I think it's garbage."
The Congressional Budget Office thinks the porkalooza will have very
little impact in 2009, and that in the years after 2010 actually will
reduce economic growth.
Few economists -- none associated with this administration -- predicted
the subprime mortgage crisis. Two who did were Nouriel Roubini and
Peter Schiff. Prof. Roubini thinks the stimulus package reprises the
mistakes of Japan's "lost decade." Mr. Schiff says the porkalooza is an
"unmitigated disaster" which will produce severe stagflation in 2010 and
And Barack Obama and the Democratic party will own it.
According to a Gallup Poll published Feb. 3, 75 percent of Americans
agree a stimulus bill should be passed right away. But the more
Americans learn what's in this bill, the less they like it. According
to a Rasmussen poll published Feb. 4, only 37 percent of Americans want
the porkalooza passed as is, while 43 percent are opposed. When
Rasmussen polled on the question Jan. 21, when few details were
available, 45 percent supported the measure, while just 34 percent were
against it. In the Feb. 3 Gallup Poll, only 38 percent of respondents
wanted the bill passed as is, while 37 percent wanted major changes, and
17 percent wanted no bill at all.
Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are sufficiently large to
pass the porkalooza pretty much as is, and that's where the danger lies.
As more details of what's in it become known, already tepid support will
cool further. And if the economy doesn't turn around, support for the
president will plummet.
By passing the porkalooza, Barack Obama hopes to build a permanent
Democratic majority. But he's more likely to reprise the Carter