The more we learn about how we wound up with a too-small stimulus the more I wonder about the slightly odd aversion of American presidents to accepting legislative defeats. After all, in our system of government it’s just a fact that you can only enact the legislation that congress is prepared to enact. Given that we don’t expect presidents to have views that are identical to those of the median legislator, and especially given the rise of the de facto supermajority rule in the Senate, it should be expected that the policy preferences of the White House will substantially diverge from those of the pivotal members of congress.
So would it be so terrible for the President to just say, “I’m glad congress passed this bill and I’m signing it because I think it would help the economy, but the considered judgment of the Council on Economic Advisers and the rest of the staff is that we could use hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus over and above what Ben Nelson and Susan Collins were prepared to vote for?” Why is it felt necessary for the president to pretend to believe that what congress will pass is the same as what the country needs? It seems to me to create a weird confusion about who’s responsible for what. We’ve got Paul Krugman blogging about “Obama’s Anzio” instead of “Kent Conrad’s Anzio” or whatever. It’s just not the case that the White House gets to make domestic policy unilaterally.