Stimulus in Trouble?

by Ryan Avent

Who knows whether Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is blowing smoke in predicting that the Senate will defeat the stimulus bill — I don’t know where the vote counting stands at the moment — but it’s certainly possible that the bill could go down. Democrats, recall, need to keep their caucus together and get a defection or two from the GOP to get past a filibuster.

Typically, it’s assumed that Republican Senators are less nutty than their House counterparts, and will presumably be more alive to the economic threat we’re facing. There are other reasons to suspect that a party-line vote will be difficult to achieve for the GOP. A handful of key Senators have already announced their retirement and needn’t worry about their long-term position in the party. Others may realize that with output tumbling and a nasty unemployment number about to make headlines this Friday, opposition to the stimulus bill may not be nearly as popular as was opposition to the Wall Street bail-out passed last fall.

But Democrats are ready to assume the worst and play ball with Republicans according to a story in today’s New York Times, despite the fact that the GOP is pretty adament that only major changes, including more tax cuts and reduced spending, could earn their support. All of which points to a scenario eerily similar to that in the House — Democrats water down the stimulus with sops to the GOP, only to find themselves with little to no Republican support when it comes time to vote.

Nobody wants to play chicken with the fate of the economy hanging in the balance, but it may be time to call the opposition’s bluff. An actual defeat for the stimulus would cause havoc on Wall Street that would make the market’s plunge in the wake of the bail-out’s initial defeat look pleasant. A scare like that might shatter GOP solidarity once and for all. The alternative, in any case, is an empowered GOP minority, that will kill or maim legislation for the rest of the Congressional term.