By PEGGY NOONAN
It looks like a win but feels like a loss.
The party-line vote in favor of the stimulus package could have been more, could have produced not only a more promising bill but marked the beginning of something new, not a postpartisan era (there will never be such a thing and never should be; the parties exist to fight through great political questions) but a more bipartisan one forced by crisis and marked byŚwell, let's call it seriousness.
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President Obama could have made big history here. Instead he just got a win. It's a missed opportunity.
It's a win because of the obvious headline: Nine days after inauguration, the new president achieves a major Congressional victory, House passage of an economic stimulus bill by a vote of 244-188. It wasn't even close. This is major.
But do you know anyone, Democrat or Republican, dancing in the street over this? You don't. Because most everyone knows it isn't a good bill, and knows that its failure to receive a single Republican vote, not one, suggests the old battle lines are hardening. Back to the Crips versus the Bloods. Not very inspiring.
The president will enjoy short-term gain. In the great circle of power, to win you have to look like a winner, and to look like a winner you have to win. He did and does. But for the long term, the president made a mistake by not forcing the creation of a bill Republicans could or should have supported.
Consider the moment. House Republicans had conceded that dramatic action was needed and had grown utterly supportive of the idea of federal jobs creation on a large scale. All that was needed was a sober, seriously focused piece of legislation that honestly tried to meet the need, one that everyone could tinker with a little and claim as their own. Instead, as Rep. Mike Pence is reported to have said to the president, "Know that we're praying for you. . . . But know that there has been no negotiation [with Republicans] on the billŚwe had absolutely no say." The final bill was privately agreed by most and publicly conceded by many to be a big, messy, largely off-point and philosophically chaotic piece of legislation. The Congressional Budget Office says only 25% of the money will even go out in the first year. This newspaper, in its analysis, argues that only 12 cents of every dollar is for something that could plausibly be called stimulus.
What was needed? Not pork, not payoffs, not eccentric base-pleasing, group-greasing forays into birth control as stimulus, as the speaker of the House dizzily put it before being told to remove it.
"Business as usual." "That's Washington." But in 2008 the public rejected business as usual. That rejection is part of what got Obama elected.