Republicans don't want their fingerprints on the stimulus bill or the next bank bailout because they plan to make the midterm election of 2010 a national referendum on Barack Obama's handling of the economy. They know that by then the economy will still appear sufficiently weak that they can dub the entire Obama effort a failure -- even if the economy would have been far worse without it, even if the economy is beginning to turn around.
During two votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, no Republican backed either version of the stimulus. It took a few centrist-leaning Northeastern Republicans to win passage by a single vote in the Senate. A Reuters story yesterday implied that President Obama's rival Sen. John McCain was portraying the nascent administration as adverse to bipartisanship and characterized the plan by saying, "I think that the majority of people understand that this was generational theft." Democrats, conversely, begin to complain that the bill was too bipartisan -- even without GOP cooperation. In an interview with conservative newsweekly NewsMax, the leader of 1994's "Contract with America" Newt Gingrich said he "absolutely" sees a connection between when Republicans took over the House and 2010.
Irwin M. Stelzer imparts these talking points while writing in The Weekly Standard and illustrates this point by saying that Obama "now owns the recession." By pegging the troubled economy solely on Obama, these critics may believe that the president cannot possibly make in-roads in quite enough time for congressional elections next year.
He has asked to be judged by whether this bill and other measures he will propose create or "save" 3.5-to-4 million jobs, the number lost so far since unemployment turned up. Forget "save" -- if unemployment keeps rising, voters are not likely to rally around the slogan "It would be still worse if I hadn't spent your trillions." What the President has done is to promise what he certainly can't deliver in time for the congressional elections next year -- a reversal of job destruction, and millions of new jobs, said Stelzer.
When it's all said and done, it's still all about the economy, stupid, as Bill Clinton's campaign declared in 1992. How President Obama, congressional Democrats and the Republican opposition react to that in 2009 will be a tale we're likely to hear a lot about in 2010.