For the life of me, I cannot figure out what Obama’s thinking is on this stimulus bill. Today, he told House Republicans that he “probably” will not compromise on tax cuts. Of course, he means he will not put more tax cuts in the bill, but even if he sticks to that, he already has compromised on tax cuts. There should not be any in there at all — or at most a very minimal amount. But instead, a third of the package is devoted to tax cuts! But that’s not enough to satisfy Boehner et al. — AP reports that they are hard at work on an alternate version that would be almost entirely tax cuts: “The only new spending in the Republican plan is to maintain the current system of up to 33 weeks in unemployment benefits for several additional months.”

Now, Pres. Obama is reportedly telling leading House Democrats that he will not fight to keep the provision making it easier for states to include birth control for low-income women as a Medicaid-covered expense and, even worse, is leaning hard on Henry Waxman to strip the provision out of the bill, to mollify the far right contingent in the House, who have been distorting the nature and purpose of the birth control plan in order to (falsely) claim that it’s a sop to “the abortion lobby” and has nothing to do with stimulating the economy. In fact, taking the financial burden off states to cover the cost of family planning services that are disallowed under federal Medicaid rules does stimulate the economy — not to mention the stimulus provided by all those low-income women whose financial lives are directly tied to their ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But when the Democratic Speaker of the House is not equal to the task of explaining these simple facts with clarity and conviction, then this aspect of the stimulus plan does not stand much of a chance of withstanding practiced and polished GOP propagandists, does it?

I’m very disappointed, though, that Obama himself, who unlike Nancy Pelosi is quite capable of eloquently and forcefully defending important policies, has persuaded House Democrats (or is about to) to kill what is, to my knowledge, the only provision in the stimulus legislation that would directly help low-income women who rely on Medicaid for their health care needs.

If Democrats needed to make concessions in order to get the stimulus package through the House, that would be one thing. But they don’t. If Republicans actually were negotiating in good faith, and could be convinced to support a bill that reasonably compromised to include both sides’ most cherished positions, that would be one thing, too. But they aren’t, and they can’t. Boehner has made that very clear. Does this:

President Barack Obama is coming to the Capitol this afternoon to curry favor with congressional Republicans. But it appears GOP leaders have already made up their minds to oppose his $825 billion stimulus plan.

House Republican Leader John A. Boehner and his No. 2, Whip Eric Cantor, told their rank-and-file members Tuesday morning during a closed-door meeting to oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday, according to an aide familiar with the discussion. Boehner told members that he’s voting against the stimulus, and Cantor told the assembled Republicans that there wasn’t any reason for them to support the measure, according to another person in the room. Cantor and his whip team are going to urge GOP members to oppose it.

sound like a GOP leadership that’s willing to compromise? They’ll listen, they’ll take whatever additional concessions they can get, then they’ll vote No anyway. In their minds, they have nothing to lose:

In the most cynical of evaluations, it’s not clear to me that they’re incorrect. If the stimulus is judged a success, their political gain from adding more votes to what will be seen as Obama’s bill will not be that great. So they’re figuring that only failure will work for them politically; and they judge that they want Obama to own it entirely.

One can pick apart the political ethics of their stand, but the reality of it is clear. They want to criticize as many provisions of the bill as possible, push for as many non-stimulus inducing tax cuts as possible at the expense of spending on infrastructure, and then vote against the final bill en masse. I think it’s possible Obama will get a smattering of moderate Republicans in the senate. But that is the Boehner/McConnell approach — and the one few if any reporters seem to have the wherewithal to say out loud.

Steve Benen sees opportunity in this reality:

MAYBE WE CAN MAKE AN EVEN BETTER BILL NOW…. I suppose President Obama deserves credit for trying. He made a good faith effort to earn support from conservative Republican House members for an economic stimulus package. Obama negotiated with them, compromised with them, and even included a whole lot of tax cuts to win them over.

But just as the president was poised to work with the House GOP even further, the caucus leader announces it’s too late.
This isn’t a surprise. As discussions progressed, Boehner had a habit of “zeroing in like a laser on the least-defensible possible position,” including opposition to state aid and Medicaid expansion. For that matter, Boehner apparently rejects the very idea of an economic stimulus, hoping a combination of tax cuts and time will get the economy moving again.

Given this, of course he opposes the proposed rescue package. It’s antithetical to all of his beliefs about government and the economy — beliefs that, incidentally, helped create the crisis in the first place. That Obama was willing to engage them directly and honestly was gracious, and evidence of a leader sincere about changing the way business is done, but his efforts were bound to be in vain.

Once again, the relationship between Lucy and Charlie Brown keeps coming to mind.

Nevertheless, I have one relevant question: since the House GOP isn’t interested in passing the bill any more, can Democrats make it even better now? The White House has been willing to make all kinds of concessions to win over Republican support, but it’s not enough. Since the GOP is going to vote “no” anyway, why not make the bill as effective and progressive as possible? If there’s no point in the majority party offering unwelcome enticements to those who’ll remain obstinate anyway, then pull the enticements and let the majority party do the right thing.

I could not agree more. But I also think the chances of Obama and Democrats in Congress being this bold are slim to none.

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