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Obama's False Choice Between Doing Nothing and Doing Something

11:14 AM, Feb 10, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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"So, you know, we -- we can differ on some of the particulars, but, again, the question I think the American people are asking is, do you just want government to do nothing, or do you want it to do something? If you want it to do something, then we can have a conversation. But doing nothing, that's not an option from my perspective."

As a friend said to me last night, these words from Obama sound like something Michael Scott would say. In fact, the American public is much smarter than Obama is giving them credit for. They have very specific ideas about what they want and do not want in the stimulus. They recognize that a Congressional solution will likely be a compromise. They are peeved by the relative lack of transparency in the bill process, and understandably worried about oversight and overdoing, given the questionable fate of the first half of TARP. Which, if you'll remember, Obama assured proper oversight of while he was doing double duty as a Senator and a candidate last fall.

As Obama might say, the American people "reject the false choice between" doing something and doing nothing. For that matter, so does Congress. As Ed Morrissey notes today, Obama's allegedly intractable Republican opponents got past their "ideological blockage" long enough to offer at least two alternatives to the Democrats' plan. Undoubtedly, those plans were more tax cuts and less spending than Obama desired, but they don't constitute an overwhelming desire to do "nothing," as the president so disingenuously suggests.

The only entity I've heard suggest explicitly that doing nothing might be better than doing something is, in fact, the Congressional Budget Office.

President Obama's economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.

Among the other players in Obama's "do-nothing" caucus are the 11 Democrats who opposed the stimulus in the House. Among them is Heath Shuler, who places the blame for the bill's colossal public relations problems exactly where it belongs:

Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler said Monday that his party's leadership on Capitol Hill has failed to pursue a bipartisan compromise to a costly economic stimulus package, arguing that a lack of Republican support is eroding the program's credibility.

The conservative Democrat, who represents a western North Carolina district, was one of a handful in his party to oppose the stimulus package when the House voted on it two weeks ago. He said Democratic leaders in Congress haven't made any effort to hear his concerns or assuage his fears about the spending bill since the vote...

"I truly feel that's where maybe House leadership and Senate leadership have really failed," Shuler said.

For speaking truth to power, Shuler got a rather personal smackdown from Sen. Harry Reid's spokesperson:

Let me get this straight - this is coming from a guy who threw more than twice as many interceptions than touchdowns?

The House and Senate Democrats did fail. They shut House Republicans out of the deal-making while they stuffed the bill full of things even 11 of their own couldn't countenance. They voted down almost every single Republican amendment in the Senate, most of which were designed to cut wasteful spending or offer further tax relief, without regard to whether supporting one or two might have lured a few more Republican votes. And, Obama failed to control the process. As he is wont to do, he stood back and looked cool, thereby preserving his own approval numbers, but failing to lead.

The stimulus package will almost certainly pass, but the road to passage has been so bruising for the new president, that there's a palpable sense of frustration among Democrats. Reid's soldiers are going forth to frag Democratic dissenters with juvenile, campaign-style soundbites. In doing so, they're likely inspiring more unity among Blue Dogs than fear of the somewhat underwhelming Reid.

When Obama wasn't stultifying at the podium yesterday, he was petulant. He blamed Bush more times than necessary for the economic situation, inaccurately implying that it was tax cuts that caused the downturn instead of the housing bubble and credit crisis. He sounded downright defensive when talking about fiscal responsibility:

"When it comes to how we approach the issue of fiscal responsibility, again, it's a little hard for me to take criticism from folks, about this recovery package, after they presided over a doubling of the national debt. I'm not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility,"

It's a fair enough point, though much of the debt came from the TARP expenditures he supported, but it was delivered with annoyance. That, and Obama's total rewriting of Japanese economic history, showed a weakness Obama doesn't usually betray. His backhands are usually more sly, his fudging of facts more deft. Whether he "wins" on this bill or no, the great orator of the new politics is rattled, and he brought it on himself.