The House Republicans have been the one ray of light for a semblance of conservatism and restraint under President Bush. They defeated Bush’s amnesty proposals, for example, in spite of the hard ball politics of the former President. A majority of them voted down TARP in September even though it eventually passed with Democratic votes. This week they voted to a man against Obama’s partisan wish-list bailout, complete with money for things that have no relation to infrastructure or strategic spending to stimulate the economy.
Critics are rightly concerned that the Republicans will hurt themselves if they spend the next four years impotently opposing Obama without viable counter-proposals. That said, I believe this result is a net harm upon Obama, who (like nearly every new President) promised a new tone of bipartisanship, civility, and pragmatism in Washington D.C. More than most, his image and his healing power was a big part of his appeal. From the “we won” reaction in a meeting to House Republicans to his inability to get any Republicans to hop on board the Pelosi-authored $800B smorgasbord, Obama appears both weak in the face of House Democrats and unable to use his storied rhetoric to get any Republicans to actually go along with him in his dramatic approach to the economic crisis.
The Republicans would do well to resist what will be ineffective big spending proposals. A certain kind of non-partisan conservative spirit still exists among many Americans for whom big spending and big deficits, particularly during a time of scarcity, strikes them as lunacy. As Americans tighten their belts on purchases of homes, cars, and consumer goods, the idea that the government should pursue every random proposal that has come down the pike in the name of stimulus does not make a lot of sense. For those whose economic philosophy identifies cheap money and profligate spending as the cause of booms and their consequent busts, this stimulus package has no more to recommend than what got us here: big spending in the form of nearly zero interest rates, two wars, a $600B entitlement for prescription drugs, and huge deficits under Bush.
Republicans should cooperate with Obama on national security matters and respect his authority in this arena. That maturity will stand in sharp contrast to the MoveOn.org craziness of the last eight years, where the Democrats lost two elections in part due to their left wing’s collective lunacy. But there’s no reason to bend on a philosophically bad spending proposal that exemplifies all that is wrong with the Democratic philosophy of governance and also continues all that was wrong with Bush’s policies.