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Politics

Stimulus: A Win for the GOP?

Republicans, especially in the House, seem to have found their voice in the stimulus debate.

Republicans, especially in the House, seem to have found their voice in the stimulus debate. There's no question that they stood together for fiscal restraint, were unified behind tax cuts as the best way to prime the economic pump and that they found plenty of unnecessary Democratic spending programs to rail against. They also avoided becoming the party of just saying "no" because they did offer their own alternatives.

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As a result, party leaders feel they've made big political strides. But what about their influence over policy?

There's no question that President Obama made a big mistake in publicly declaring he hoped to pass the stimulus bill with lots of GOP backing. By doing so, he gave Republicans the final say on whether his bipartisan effort would be successful. All they had to do was vote no to deny him that victory, and that they did. All Republicans in the House opposed the stimulus and all but three voted against it in the Senate.

Republicans are clearly excited about their show of party discipline. The New York Times on Sunday hails Rep. Eric Cantor as the new Newt Gingrich for holding the caucus together and denying Obama a single vote, but one has to question how big an accomplishment that really was.

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Consider the case of Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican who represents a district in Michigan hit hard by the economic crisis. Obama had hoped she might support the bill because of what it would do to help her constituents, but in the end she voted no. She told the Washington Post it "was not an easy vote" but in fact, in some ways, it was. Miller knew the bill would pass -- and her constituents would get help -- so she was free to stay loyal to her party, knowing her vote did not truly matter. 

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Republicans in the Senate had no such luxury. The three who voted for the package -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- knew the bill would be defeated without them and that proved too heavy a burden. In exchange for support though, they extracted considerable concessions from the Democrats.

But House Republicans got no such concessions because they wouldn't support the bill in any case. Was that a help to their supporters? Consider the business community, which worked hard to get the House to include a loss carryback provision that meant billions in tax refunds. At the last minute, that provision was scaled back to a pittance of what it was originally. But what if a handful of House Republicans, who kept calling for more business tax cuts, had been willing to bargain a little, offering their support in exchange for restoration of that business tax break? Chances are it would have survived.

So House Republicans succeeded in staying united, but in the end, they lost all influence over the bill. And one has to wonder how hard Obama will try to include their input when the next big crisis comes around. 

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