The Note, 2/12/09: The Win -- Obama gets his package -- but what did he lose in the process?


What are the chances we’ll know everything about what’s in this stimulus package before President Obama signs it into law?

What are the chances he’ll still want to claim this as a victory once we know everything that’s in it?

What are the chances the next win will be this easy -- as difficult as this one was?

(By the way -- he’s still got a banking system to save, too.)

It’s been messy, it’s been ugly, it’s been untidy -- and it’s right to be scored a legislative win, on-budget and on-schedule (mostly).

Few presidents have been able to claim a victory of this magnitude, in scope and sweep, this early in a presidency. It’s Lincoln’s birthday, but cue the FDR references.

Yet we may not know for a while whether any president (this one included) will want to claim a victory quite like this one.

If the stimulus package works, the answer to that is easy.

But this is a victory that’s stocked with the possibility of losses -- of a political honeymoon, of the chances of bipartisan action in addressing the next agenda items, of solid Democratic unity in support of the president, and maybe of a little bit of hope.

“It is a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one. The question now is whether the $789 billion economic stimulus plan agreed to by Congressional leaders on Wednesday is the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda from President Obama or a harbinger of reduced expectations,” Richard W. Stevenson writes in The New York Times.

“In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right,” he writes.

In political terms, this looked like one of the Washington games we’re used to -- bluster from both sides, fierce partisanship, and in the end, a compromise that’s passing with just enough support from the opposition to clear procedural obstacles.

This belongs to the Democrats, and the sales pitch continues:

“If you look at the overall package, states will be getting significant help across the board,” Obama said in a roundtable interview with reporters from regional newspapers. “We will have allocated money for a couple of years' worth of help, recognizing that in states like Ohio, you are not going to see the economy pull out of recession overnight.”

“I would argue what's most likely is we undercount jobs,” the president said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Thomas Fitzgerald. “I think the ripple effects of this package won't be entirely documentable, but I think it will be significant.” 

What else is documentable?

“[Congress] handed President Barack Obama his first major legislative victory, though the deliberations that led up to its passage highlighted the enormous challenges Obama will face in more complicated endeavors like healthcare, entitlement and energy reform,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small writes. “But given how hard it was for the President to win the backing of enough members of his own party and the GOP, the stimulus fight showed the limits of even his seemingly enormous electoral mandate.” 

Of lingering impacts: “Mr. Obama will get his bill. But it won't be one focused on job creation and stimulus. The bill he signs will create a raft of new programs and be the biggest peacetime spending increase in American history, which will give us larger deficits and create pressure to raise taxes. It will also hinder the president's other goals, such as expanding government health care,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column

“Mr. Obama, for all his talents, has already re-energized the GOP and sparked a spending debate that will last for years. The president won this legislative battle, but at a high price -- fiscally and politically,” Rove writes.

“This is the largest piece of economic legislation ever,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “He knows that right now, he and his party own the economy. And that if these plans work, he will be rewarded -- Democrats will get the credit. If they don’t, I think he’s right, I think he’ll face tremendous public opposition, probably won’t get reelected.”

“We have never seen anything like this,” Stephanopoulos reports. “Overall, with TARP money and money from the Federal Reserve, the government is pushing $2-3-trillion into the economy.”

On-the-job training: “En route to what looks to be the first major victory of his presidency, Obama had some stumbles. His team allowed congressional Republicans to cast the stimulus bill as laden with wasteful spending, and faced distracting questions over why some Cabinet nominees hadn't paid all their taxes,” USA Today’s Susan Page writes. “But in his three weeks in the White House, Obama and his team have shown a willingness to cut their losses and revise their tactics when things seem to be going astray.”

“The elements that survived reflected the new president's shifting ambitions in what he calls the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Sasha Issenberg writes for The Boston Globe.

“So much for post-partisanship,” Politico’s Charles Mahtesian and Patrick O’Connor write. “So despite Obama’s campaign call for an end to ‘the smallness of our politics’ and his criticism of the ‘preference for scoring cheap political points,’ that’s exactly what’s happened during the first big legislative test of his administration.”

Politics, now: “Today, again, we are told that ‘politics’ has no place in the debate about the tripartite stimulus legislation, which is partly a stimulus, partly liberalism's agenda of social engineering, and partly the beginning of ‘remaking’ the economy,” George Will writes in his column. “Not yet a third of the way through the president's ‘first 100 days,’ he and we should remember that it was not FDR's initial burst of activity in 1933 that put the phrase ‘100 days’ into the Western lexicon. It was Napoleon's frenetic trajectory in 1815 that began with his escape from Elba and ended near the Belgian village of Waterloo.”

The House could vote as early as Thursday, with the Senate to follow Friday -- leaving it for Obama’s signature by his Presidents Day goal.

In the meantime, it’s back to Illinois for the president: “Obama is scheduled to talk during a meeting Thursday afternoon with Caterpillar workers facing the prospect of layoffs,” per the AP. “Caterpillar is cutting more than 20,000 jobs. The Peoria-based company says demand for its heavy construction equipment and other machinery has been severely hurt by the global economic crisis. Obama said Wednesday Caterpillar will rehire some of its laid-off workers if the president's nearly $800 billion stimulus bill is approved.”

The deal couldn’t even get rolled out cleanly: “After bungling the selling of the economic stimulus bill and miscalculating how much political capital they had to ram it through Congress, Democrats stumbled again on Wednesday’s announcement of a deal -- delaying the beginning of the end for the now-$789.5 billion measure,” Roll Call’s Emily Pierce writes. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had given Reid her approval to go forward with the press conference, but she soon found that rank-and-file House Democrats were livid that a deal was being publicized while they still hadn’t been briefed on what was in it.”

“The plan was met with some backlash from House Democrats, who complained about not being included in the negotiations,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf and Jonathan Karl report. “To quell a last-minute rebellion by the liberal leaders, who were unhappy with the scaled-down bill, senators met at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to negotiate the plan this afternoon and increased the funds allocated to states for school construction.”

Isn’t open democracy fun? “The only Republicans involved in most of the talks are the three moderates who voted for the package on the Senate floor. Their votes, of course, are critical to passing the measure,” per ABC News.

“They like to be in the room when these things are put together. And they haven't been. And so I think they were a bit offended by that,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tells ABC’s Jake Tapper.

Feeling the impact: “The stimulus package has emerged as the first major campaign issue of the 2010 election cycle, and a Republican Party eyeing a return to the majority is going all-in,” The Hill’s Aaron Blake writes.

Cue RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “If you like government dependence, you will love the Reid-Pelosi plan that they are jamming through Congress,” Steele writes in a USA Today op-ed.

Here come the ads: “The party’s campaign arm will start airing radio ads Friday in approximately 30 Democratic districts to argue that the bill violates the lawmakers’ campaign pledge to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington,” Politico’s Patrick O’Connor reports.

Growth -- in size, and in politics. “Three months ago, the stimulus plan was envisioned as a $300 billion rescue package that the incoming Obama team had hoped would be enacted well before Inauguration Day, which would have cleared the way for the new White House to start from scratch on an ambitious domestic agenda,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write. “Instead, it became a politically charged first test for the Obama administration and the newly expanded Democratic Congress, as well as a rallying point for congressional Republicans.”

Has the stimulus lost some stimulus? “The latest version of the economic-stimulus package is expected to provide less near-term support for the economy and make it less likely that the economy will pull itself out of recession before late this year,” Sudeep Reddy writes in The Wall Street Journal. “The $789.5 billion deal, reached by House and Senate negotiators Wednesday, indicates the Obama administration was willing to reduce its goal of creating or saving four million jobs. The new plan pares some aid to state and local governments that was aimed at preventing job cuts and reduces tax breaks for workers that were intended to spur quick spending.”

And taxes? How’s $13 a week feel? (That’s three of those new Starbucks value meals.)

“It includes Obama's signature ‘Making Work Pay’ tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 -- or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama's original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers' paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January,” per the AP’s Jim Abrams.

The AMT fix survives: “The House-Senate compromise . . . cuts funds for extended health care coverage for the unemployed; cuts $30 billion in aid to state governments to prevent reductions in social services to the poor and out-of-work; and also cuts a special ‘Making Work Pay’ tax holiday from $500 to $400 for an individual, and from $1,000 to $800 for a couple, for low-to-middle-income workers still hanging on to their jobs,” Tom Edsall writes for Huffington Post. “Amid all the cutting, however, one group emerged unscathed: the upper-middle class, the not-quite-super-rich, but certainly not on the ropes.”

Are the goals still the same? “Both Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders lowered their work-creation expectation Wednesday. They had originally said their goal was to create, or save, four million jobs. Last night, they cut that to 3.5 million,” The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Hitt and Jonathan Weisman report.  A source of strength: “Nearly seven in ten Americans approve of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, giving him enormous political capital as he pushes Congress to give him unprecedented tools to fight economic crisis, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll,” McClatchy’s Steven Thomma writes. “Obama outpolls Congress by more than 30 points, and he also can point to an uptick in the number of people who think the country's headed in the right direction even as a majority thinks the worst is yet to come in the economy.”

About that banking system -- why did Tim Geithner give his speech this week again? “As senior senators demanded more details yesterday about how the government's new financial rescue package will work, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told them that the time he is taking to work out the specifics will make for a better plan and prevent missteps,” The Washington Post's Renae Merle and Neil Irwin write.

“So you have no clue,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Geithner, per ABC’s Matt Jaffe.

Bloomberg columnist John M. Berry: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner got in trouble this week not because details of his financial stability plan weren’t ready. It was because he and other Obama administration officials had led everyone to believe they were. That violated a guiding principle of Washington life: manage expectations so no one is disappointed by what you deliver. It’s an integral part of the spin process every politician learns at his mother’s (or mentor’s) knee.”

All at once, now: “Two huge economic relief programs. One potentially big headache for President Obama,” CQ’s Adriel Bettelheim writes. “Not quite four weeks into his presidency, Obama faces a formidable test rallying public support for the economic stimulus package at the same time his Treasury Department begins to roll out a plan to overhaul the bank bailout program.”

Get ready, Chicago: “When Air Force One touches down Friday evening in Chicago, there will once again be a chance to see heavily armed motorcades and be surprised by unexpected appearances by the most famous and powerful Chicagoan. It will also mark the start of an entirely new experience for the city: hosting an extended visit by a sitting president,” per the Chicago Tribune’s John McCormick and Sara Olkon.

“There will almost certainly be morning workouts near Obama's South Side home, street closures as his motorcade zips across town and possibly a Valentine's Day dinner out for the First Couple at one of their favorite restaurants. But there will be some new wrinkles. Security is almost certain to be even tighter than it was when Obama was last in the city Jan. 4, and there will be the potential to catch a glimpse of Air Force One and other presidential details.”

A watershed moment? “A crew from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is at the White House today. The daily briefing is ripe for mocking and mugging -- like shooting gold fish in a bowl -- and the Daily Show team was there as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs parried with reporters,” Lynn Sweet writes for the Chicago Sun-Times.

A star is showcased: “House and Senate Republican leaders announced today that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will deliver the Republican response to President Obama's address to a Joint Session of Congress scheduled for Feb. 24,” per ABC’s David Chalian. “It appears the Republicans are tearing a page out of the recent Democratic playbook of governors responding from their home states to put the anti-Washington stamp on their party's messaging efforts.”

Next from Alexandra Pelosi: “Right America: Feeling Wronged,” which debuts on HBO Monday.

“Do you think that people in Hollywood know that there are a large number of people driving around America with 'Nobama' bumper stickers on their car?” Pelosi tells Variety’s Ted Johnson. “Or do they think that the whole world just loves Obama, because you turn on the news and you think that the whole world loves Obama.”

The Kicker:

“It’s much harder for him -- he doesn’t have a lightsaber.” -- George Lucas, explaining to Politico’s Patrick Gavin that Barack Obama still has a better chance of saving the world than Luke Skywalker.

“If any of you really got me mad, I would press the button, and . . .” -- President Obama, explaining the red panic button that would summon the Secret Service, in his roundtable interview with regional reporters.

"It's very relaxing to play the bad guy. Doing comedy is a lot of hard work. You can show up drunk, divorced and in a lousy mood, and the camera loves it when you're doing a drama."--Actor Ted Danson, who testified before Congress about off-shore drilling on Wednesday, talking to ABC News about what it's like to play the bad guy on FX's "Damages".

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