Noone Could Have Predicted

I, for one, am shocked that Barack Obama’s strategy of making preemptive concessions to the GOP in the stimulus bill, slashing rail funding to make room for more tax cuts, hasn’t stopped Republicans from still wanting more:

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

Nor can I really blame the Republicans here. Everyone knows that you don’t accept the first bid. Now of course the Democrats have substantial majorities in both houses and don’t need to get Republican votes. But the very fact of having made preemptive concessions created expectations that Obama would get GOP support for his bill and generate pissy grafs like this:

The GOP’s shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama’s first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote — little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.

Meanwhile, I’m not even sure it’s true that bills being “passed on a largely party-line vote” really has been the defining quality of the past 16 years’ worth of governance. If we think back to Bill Clinton’s administration, then his first budget certainly was party-line. But NAFTA, the other major initiative of his first two years in office, very much wasn’t. And then after the GOP takeover in the 1994 midterms it was impossible to do anything on a party-line vote. The major legislation of that era — the 1997 budget deal, welfare reform, etc. — was necessarily bipartisan. In his first term, I would say that Bush’s major endeavors were the 2001 & 2003 rounds of tax cuts, the No Child Left Behind re-write of ESEA, and the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of those, only the 2003 tax cuts passed without significant Democratic support.


And yet, there really was sniping all this time! Which I think mostly goes to show that the vote counts for bills in congress ultimately has very little to do with whether or not there’s a general spirit of comity in town.