Excuse my effrontery, but being a scion of the Klamath Basin, where rattlesnakes ply the lava-sculpted landscape, sending up their percussive warning, like so many agitated crickets, I feel I could have saved President Obama and the nation a lot of heartache and pain in the battle over the stimulus package. If I somehow could have communicated with the President before he sent the bill to Congress, I would have told him: you can't bargain with a rattlesnake.
Even now, the two versions of the stimulus package, the version passed by the House, and that passed by the Senate, are being reconciled in conference. But what has become apparent to many Washington observers is that President Obama's hope for bipartisan cooperation in this time of crisis was overly optimistic. The Republicans, still locked in the delusion that their regressive domestic policies are admired despite the resounding whipping they have received in the last two national elections, are not going to play ball.
President Obama's stimulus package was carefully crafted beforehand to attract bipartisan support. In addition to funding many programs favored by Democrats (and by the voting public) the package included significant tax cuts to sooth the feelings of Republicans still chafing (like tiny, little Mussolinis) at their diminished role in setting national policy. The administration's hope, I surmise, was to submit a bill that addressed the concerns of all parties; a bill that would sail through both houses of Congress with large majorities.
The president took bold public steps to reach out to the Republicans. He met with the minority caucuses in both houses. He threw a cocktail party where you just know that GOP House Leader John Boehner drank everybody else under the table. He invited Republican leaders to a Superbowl party at the White House.
But the Republicans, still angling for political advantage and unaware of how despised they are in the eyes of the public, rejected the President's overtures.
Word leaked out that Boehner had already sent the word down to his caucus: vote against the bill. And, sure enough, not a single Republican cast a vote for the stimulus. Recently-elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele later cooed "the goose egg that you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful." How's that for bipartisanship?
After the Democrats passed the legislation through the House by virtue of their majority, there were rumblings about a Republican filibuster in the Senate. But then certain northeastern Senate Republicans, displaying some dim awareness of public sentiment, nixed that effort. Maine's two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter sided with the President in voting to end debate in the Senate, providing the 60-vote majority to allow the legislation to move forward. Good for them, but it is hard to characterize their votes as heroic (despite clueless Joe Lieberman's call for them to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor). Polls are showing that the public approves of Obama's job performance at a rate of 67%. Congressional Republicans? Not quite so good. They come in at 31%, with 58% disapproving.
President Obama's patience has apparently worn thin. Last Thursday, he took to the national airwaves, broadcasting a speech he gave before a crowd of House Democrats. He ripped into the Republicans with some real zingers. "I found this national debt, doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office." Or how about, "If you’re headed for a cliff, you’ve got to change direction." Whammy!
notable exceptions) I hope it works. But more than that, I hope that President Obama has taken to heart something that we Klamath Basin folk know by instinct: when you're dealing with a rattlesnake, a shovel works wonders.