The pushback began last week, with Pres. Obama's speech to the House Democratic Caucus, which was televised. He also published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that laid out his argument - and set the Administration's counter-argument - and is now on the road (today he was in Elkhart, IN; tomorrow in Ft. Myers, FL) and will also give a prime-time news conference today.
In the midst of all this we have the Republicans doing all they can to try to fudge and dodge, muddy the waters, and simply flat-out lie.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) criticized Senate "centrists" for cutting $40 billion in state aid from the stimulus package, noting that the aid, which appeared in the House version, was intended to stop states from "laying off cops and firefighters, money to help keep teachers going." Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada rejected Frank's comments, labeling the remarks "fearmongering." Indeed, Ensign seemed encouraged by the fact that state budgets, including his own, would have to be slashed, calling the budgets "bloated." He said, "What we should be doing is cutting back."
Got that? As the recession worsens, and government spending is needed to prevent more Americans from losing their jobs, a leading Republican senator whose own state is about to get pummeled, believes it's a good idea to "cut back."
To Ensign's really stupid comment, Yglesias says:
The idea that it would be good for states to cut back in the midst of the recession is stupid. The idea that the recession won’t, absent federal aid, lead to layoffs of state employees such as teachers and firefighters is also stupid. But the idea that it’s simultaneously true that the reason we should eschew aid is that states need to cut back and also true that it’s fearmongering to warn of layoffs is doubleplus stupid. What does Ensign think cutbacks consist of? States will be reducing vital services. The cutbacks will have the immediate impact of reducing the incomes of laid-off families and beneficiaries of state programs. That will have an additional impact on businesses where the newly laid-off teachers and cops used to work.
And the reduced level of service will have its own bad economic impacts. Cutting back public safety budgets will mean fewer cops on the beat. That means more crime which will further reduce economic activity. State cutbacks to child care subsidies will make it harder for people who lose jobs to find and accept new ones. The cutbacks to mass transit services that are happening across the country will introduce additional rigidity into the labor market and reduce patronage of businesses that people are accustomed to reaching via transit. And in the most severe cases, cutbacks in assistant to the severely impoverished will have a decades-long impact on the well-being of their children.
Of course, it's not just Republicans in Congress, but their enablers in the DC Insider Press Corps who are taking a few hits.
Here’s an interesting dynamic: The yawning gap between what the pundits say about who’s winning the stimulus war and what the polls say the public thinks has created an opening for the Obama team to reclaim Obama’s campaign outsider mantle, which had slipped away during the transition to governing.
Case in point: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, on the presidential plane today, directly targeted cable news as out of touch with America when asked about polling on the stim package.
According to the pool report, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod ran with this ball on the campaign plane, too, saying that the new Gallup poll proves how out of touch Beltway insiders are.
“If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago,” Axelrod said.
Obviously there’s a bit of shtick going on here. Still, the Obama team is clearly embarking on a new and more aggressive strategic effort to draw attention to the size of his popular mandate and paint Washington as a place designed to obstruct the public’s will.
One gets the sense that Obama is starting to realize that governing includes some campaigning, too. He's good at it, and should keep it up. Revise and extend those original remarks from last week, keep the pressure on the Republicans and the press, push back, and remember it's about people hurting and needing to do something to help. It isn't about winning a game. Whether it's Sen. Ensign thinking it's fearmongering to say that cutting state budgets and state services means people get laid off - including police, fire, and teachers - or Mitch McConnell saying that construction projects don't create jobs (or something like that) or some anonymous blogger insisting a CBO report says something it clearly does not say, we need to keep the pressure on until this thing passes. Also, it should be noted, just as Bush's tax cuts in 2001 were followed by another round in 2003, we should always remember that Obama is going to be in office for at least four years, so he can come back and demand more action if need be in the future. So don't weep if this act isn't perfect. It's a start.