Too Little, Too Late for Obama on Stimulus?
After two weeks of letting his Republican opponents in Congress dominate debate over his economic stimulus package, President Obama is finally starting to fight back. Blasting the GOP for an economy "headed over a cliff," Obama only now is showing signs of playing his strong hand. But it may be too late. While Obama will likely win the battle in getting a waterered-down version of his recovery package, he may have already lost the war by resuscitating the recently moribund Republican Party from its vegetative state.
With GOP surrogates continuing to badly outnumber Democrats on cable news and polls showing support for his stimulus plan dropping, Obama finally returned fire over the past 24 hours. Speaking at the Energy Department on Thursday, Obama thundered:
"So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action."
Addressing a House Democratic retreat last night, the President highlighted not just the urgent need for action on the economy, but the proven record of Republican failure on the issue. Insisting "we can't embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face," Obama warned GOP economic prescriptions have the U.S. economy "headed for a cliff." Reminding Americans that "I found this deficit when I showed up," President Obama summed up the discredited Republican economic philosophy:
"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."
Friday's dismal unemployment numbers provided Obama with more ammunition for a new salvo against Republican obstructionists in the Senate. Calling their delay "inexcusable and irresponsible," Obama pointed to the skyrocketing 7.6% joblessness figure and warned:
"All of us in Washington must remember that we're here to work for the American people. And if we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis will turn into a catastrophe."
By all indications, the Obama counterattack won't end there. His has apparently returned to campaign mode, and has decided to adopt the sharper tone candidate Obama featured when the economic meltdown commenced in September. In addition, on Monday Obama will hold a prime-time press conference, and may deliver a nationally-televised address early next week.
But the damage has already been done. While Senate Majority leader Harry Reid tries to scrounge up votes, supposed Senate moderates are already gutting education, health care and other needed funding from the $900 billion package. In all likelihood, Barack Obama will sign a stimulus bill, but not the he could have - or should have - had.
And that's in large measure because his strategy of bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake will have backfired on him. As I've detailed before, Obama gambled that all of his outreach to Republicans would pay off in more votes on his recovery package now, or in support later from a public grateful for a new tone in Washington. Alas, he seems destined to get neither. Failing to capitalize on the enormous reservoir of good will from the American people, Obama has only served to energize a beaten and battered GOP now determined to repeat its successful 1990's obstructionism of Bill Clinton.
It is a relief to finally see Barack Obama fight back against Republican opponents afraid not that he might fail, but that he might succeed. And while his self-defeating kowtowing to Republicans may eventually get him a bill he can sign, his appeasement has only served, as George W. Bush liked to say, to embolden the enemy.