I couldn't help but chuckle a bit at the New York Times Op-Ed page today. There on one side was conservative columnist David Brooks warning that Obama was trying to pack too much into his stimulus plan. And there on the other side was liberal Paul Krugman complaining that Obama's plan wasn't big enough to get the job done.
In short, the stimulus debate is going about the way you'd expect. Obama is genuinely trying to include everyone and he's certainly willing to compromise -- and that of course means no one is entirely happy.
Democrats complain that too much of the stimulus is going toward tax cuts, but the tax breaks are critical, and not just because they'll help win Republican support. They'll also put money in consumers hands and help businesses dig out of the downturn.
Republicans complain about the deficit spending, but they know this is not the time to hold back, although it is the time to avoid waste and spending that won't create jobs. In exchange for a pass this year and next on the deficit, Obama is offering a pledge of fiscal restraint (with procedures to enforce it) down the road. And he's even promising to tackle entitlement reform, which all politicians talk about but most fear more than anything. Basically, there's something to offend everyone.
Congress is sure to work its will on the stimulus, but the end result is going to look a lot like what Obama wants. E.J. Dionne writes today in The Washington Post that Obama is pulling all the right political strings to get the bill through.
The odd thing about the stimulus is that no one really knows that it's the right move. In past recessions, similar efforts have had little effect, usually because they take too long to work. But this recession is deeper and sure to be longer than most, and the vast majority of economists of all stripes say we have to do something and it has to be very big. So we will, and neither Brooks nor Krugman nor anyone else will be entirely happy. Unless of course, it works. And everyone is hoping for that, and most are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt for now.
It all reminds me of my New Year's Eve, a chilly one spent with no electricity due to a severe wind storm. We had a lot of family in for the weekend and an elaborate dinner planned that we were never able to cook. As we sat around the fireplace trying to stay warm, one wag grumbled, "I can't wait until Jan. 20. We won't have any power outages when Obama is in office."
We all laughed, but mine was a nervous laugh. There is an unreal sense of expectation surrounding Obama, a feeling of hope that is dangerously based on a need for it rather than specific evidence for it. That's true of the stimulus plan, too. No one knows whether it is the right answer for the ailing economy; we just know nothing else has worked. But confidence is an important part of any recovery, and if anyone can exude confidence, and make the public feel some of it, it seems to be Obama. Here's hoping it all comes together.