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Politics

Republicans Betting Big in Opposing Stimulus

Are Republicans taking a big risk if they keep voting overwhelmingly against the stimulus?  Not if it passes anyway.

Are Republicans taking a big risk if they keep voting overwhelmingly against the stimulus?  Not if it passes anyway. In fact, voting no is a far safer political bet, and the upside is big.

Republicans know the bill will pass with or without their support. And Obama will get the credit if it works regardless of how many Republicans sign on or how much they influence the bill. So what do they have to lose by opposing it? Not much.

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That's not to say they'll try to hold up the legislation or kill it in a Senate filibuster. They won't have the votes, and Obama's popularity makes it hard to stand in his way. They'd be flooded with irate callers for putting the brakes on it, and then they'd be held to blame if the economy gets worse, which it almost certainly will. Plus, they realize businesses want the tax breaks in the package (the part the GOP supports). There's also unemployment benefits and a vital fix for the alternative minimum tax to prevent it from applying to millions more upper-middle-income earners. They won't stand for being vilified for killing even something they remain largely philosophically opposed to.

There may be some more accommodation yet to come for Republicans. The Senate may insist on some larger tax breaks than the House, for instance, and Obama will go an extra mile to win some bipartisanship support. But even if some changes are made, it probably won't be the type of wholesale change, such as dropping most of the spending, that would bring many Republicans aboard.

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Opposing it in large number, though, could be a strategic win. Even if the stimulus works, it will take a while to see its effects. It might even be two or three years before big infrastructure work is seen as contributing to an economic rebound or the broadband telecommunications network is expanded and the energy grid fixed. 

If the economy remains very anemic, Republicans will claim en masse that they always knew the stimulus was bad legislation and wouldn't work and would explode the deficit further and expand big government and entitlements. It could be their best firepower in the midterm election in 2010 when historically, although not always, the party out of power in the White House gains seats. A trillion dollar stimulus that may be only marginally effective could be a campaign godsend, in fact. 

When the economy does turn around eventually,  the stimulus debate may be moot. The public will have moved on to other issues, the sour national mood will have lifted, and many voters by then may not remember or care who voted or how. If there is a faster rebound, Republicans can credit other factors, not the government spending spree, or they'll say the rebound would have been quicker had there been more tax breaks for individuals and business. The stimulus will be their trillion dollar punching bag whether it works or not.

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