This has, all things considered, been a pretty great week for the republic: executive orders increasing government transparency, banning torture, and beginning the process of closing Guantanamo. Obama’s also given a nuanced, thoughtful and largely pitch-perfect interview to Al Arabiya as his first public interview, reaching out to the Muslim world in a way, frankly, only he probably could. So, overall, thumbs up, Mr. President!
But: today’s been frustrating. Earlier in the week we got word that a provision to allow bankruptcy judges to alter mortgage terms will not be included in the stimulus, partly at the White House’s behest. Now, it’s unclear whether there was ever much momentum inside the House and Senate leadership to put this in the bill, but the fact that it’s not going in is nearly criminal. Almost every single economist and expert I’ve talked to thinks this is an absolutely necessary step in foreclosure mitigation. No less a flaming Marxist than Richard Berner. It’s also very easy to implement, since bankruptcy judges already have the power to alter mortgage terms for non-primary residences. On the policy merits, it’s a no brainer. And on top of that, Senate Democrats, apparently in direct negotiations with Citigroup have gotten Citigroup to agree not to oppose the provision (so kind of them!), I don’t even see where the political opposition is coming from. Get this done, now.
Then there’s the word that at Obama’s urging, House Democrats are going to cut birth control funding from the stimulus. Yglesias notes, wisely that this seems to be concession in exchange for nothing. It’s not like more Republicans are now going to vote for the bill that weren’t before.
But more crucially, I think it’s really important to put the House Republican caucus in context. After two successive bloodbaths, the house GOP Caucus is pared down pretty far. Those left standing more or less represent fairly hard core, deep red conservative districts. Rep. Jeb Hensnarling is not going to vote for the stimulus because he just doesn’t believe in large government spending to stimulate the economy. That’s fine: I imagine many of his constituents feel the same way. So kudos to him for representing his district. But there’s no reason, then to take what Hensnarling or Cantor or Boehner say about the stimulus particularly seriously. Ideologically they are disposed to oppose it, and politically they can only win if Obama fails. Believe me, if the situation were reversed, if the Democrats were down to a caucus dominated by Barbara Lee’s and Dennis Kucinich’s, no one in the GOP nor the MSM would much care about their complaints that a Republican-sponsored bill cut food stamps, or LIHEAP, or otherwise screwed poor people.
And it’s not like conservative views won’t be represented in the final legislation. It’s in the nature of the Senate to give outsize representation to the minority. There are plenty of Republican senators who actually represent states where they will face accountability to the voters.
So, note to the White House: whenever John Boehner shows up on your Tee Vee, change the channel.