The Problem with Bipartisanship
Department of "Huh?"

Governing America

My brother recommends this from Edward Luce of the FT. I agree: it is the best short thing I have read on current American politics:

Obama faces bipartisan test on stimulus: Barack Obama faces an unexpectedly early test on Tuesday of whether he can govern as a bipartisan president when he meets Republican lawmakers to try to roll back the growing tide of conservative hostility to his $850bn stimulus plan. Republican leaders have become increasingly strident in their opposition to the plan, which they claim is stuffed with spending on Democratic special interests and contains little in the way of genuine stimulus. Mr Obama has portrayed the vote, which is expected to take place in the House of Representatives as early as this week, as a critical test of whether he can govern from the centre. Unless he comes up with a new incentive for Republicans to change their position, Mr Obama’s bipartisan aspirations could go up in smoke before he has completed a week in office. “It looks like the Republicans have decided to take on Obama sooner rather than later,” says Doug Schoen, a leading Democratic pollster. “It is a low-risk strategy. If the stimulus fails, Republicans can claim they were right all along. If it works, then they were fulfilling their role as the loyal opposition.”

Nevertheless, observers are taken aback by the harsh tone of Republican opposition to the bill at this early stage in Mr Obama’s presidency – particularly given his willingness to make compromises over its content. At the risk of alienating the liberal wing of the Democratic party, Mr Obama conceded $275bn (€208bn, £187bn) in tax cuts even before he was sworn in. Most economists say spending is a more efficient form of stimulus since a large share of tax cuts are put away in savings. But Republicans point to a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which says only a fraction of the spending in the bill would feed into the economy during 2009. In a scathing 20-point critique on Monday, John Boehner, the House Republican leader, singled out $650m in spending on digital television coupons, $50m in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and $200m to upgrade the National Mall in Washington – “including $21m for sod” – which he said made a mockery of the exercise. “Rather than working with Republicans on a proposal that lets families, small businesses, entrepreneurs and the self-employed keep more of what they earn . . . it seems congressional Democrats are prepared to barrel ahead with the same-old, same-old – more and more aimless spending,” he said in a statement.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was equally dismissive: “Everybody at the state level has been making their list and checking it twice and we’re going to end up with some very embarrassing expenditures,” he told Fox News. “You’re going to see a lot of mob museums and water slides [pork barrel items].”

Even without Republican support, Mr Obama is likely to get large majorities in favour of the stimulus in both chambers of Congress. Mr McConnell, who has 41 Republican senators, which enables him to block legislation since Democrats require 60 votes to shut off debate, has said he would not filibuster against the bill. But the early deterioration in rhetoric could bode ill for the Obama administration’s hopes of returning to Congress within the next few weeks to request much larger assistance, possibly up to $1,000bn, in new emergency funds to shore up the US banking system.

“The Republicans should vote against this stimulus because it isn’t really a stimulus,” says David Frum, a leading conservative commentator. “They will have to look separately at any new Tarp [Troubled asset relief programme] request and treat it on its merits.” Mr Obama, who promises that a majority of the stimulus spending would come on stream in the next 18 months, has signalled that there are limits to his bipartisan patience. He told Republicans last week to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio commentator, who commands a large following among grassroots conservatives. Mr Limbaugh sarcastically describes Mr Obama as the “Great Unifier”.