Josh Marshall has a perceptive post today, calling BS on the media games the Republicans are playing with the stimulus bill. He makes three points:

…Hill Republicans have been getting a lot of air time and minimal press criticism for a series of arguments about the stimulus that are in most cases transparently ridiculous. For instance, I heard several House Republicans yesterday making the straight up argument that the renovation of the Capitol Mall wouldn’t create any jobs or stimulate the economy. Well, obviously any major building project creates jobs. Nothing could be more straightforward.

…Next, since there are no controlled experiments in recessions and depressions, there’s no really concrete and dispositive evidence about what policies end or don’t end severe economic downturns. But there’s a more focused question: how much spending into the economy you get for government spending versus tax cuts. And on this point there’s a lot of evidence, all of which points to spending as being more efficient. And that’s even more the case in a severe downturn when tax cuts to businesses don’t go into further business reinvestment because everyone’s afraid to invest into a down economy.

…A subsidiary point to this one — to the extent that tax cuts are on the table, Republicans are going nuts about any tax cuts being rebated to people who are not paying income taxes. Now, again, you get more spending in the short term from people who have no choice but to spend virtually all their income. Very elementary. And it’s just another case where if you look at the criticisms coming from Hill Republicans they show clearly that they don’t come from people who have any concern for stabilizing the economy but rather from people who want to maximize tax cuts to wealthy Americans. Simple as that.

Now, JMM’s purpose here is really to call out the news media, who seem to be taking these “arguments” at face value, instead of questioning their validity.

But I think that’s really a given, and surfaces a particular problem for the Obama Adminstration, and for Democrats. Because what’s going on here is either one of two things: either the Republicans are really dumb about economics, or they’ve decided that from a political perspective, opposing this bill at all costs is the better play — I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they know what they’re doing.

So given that, this raises the question of how far Obama’s notion of bipartisanship is going to take him. For bipartisanship to work, you need to have honest brokers at the table — assuming the Republicans know something about economics, one can only conclude their approach is dishonest, which, in turn, raises the question of just what the Dems are going to get out of trying to play this fairly and squarely.

I think the calculation at this point, from the White House’s perspective, is that public opinion is on their side, and that’s what will carry them through. And they may be right — but this is only the first battle, and the news media’s laziness isn’t going to stop, and these “arguments” from the Republicans are going to chip away at public opinion, especially if people don’t start seeing their economic lives improve soon.

More importantly, and of particular interest to this blog, is the question of what Obama will horse-trade away to get votes from across the aisle. The first casualty here is the women’s health movement (go figure).

This is the line Team Obama is going to have to walk: giving away just enough to entice Republican votes, without losing the people who helped put him into office.

We’ll see how this all plays out.


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