Sorry, Obama: 'I Won' Won't Cover This
Faith-based economy policy?
Barack Obama, a reputed master of the persuasive art, has settled on his central argument for the stimulus bill: I won.
That Obama is reduced to this crude appeal is a symptom of the intellectual collapse of the case for his stimulus bill, a congressional spendfest untethered from its stated goal of providing a rapid "jolt" to the economy.
As far as political arguments go, "I won" has its power - provided it's made on behalf of an agenda ratified by the American electorate. But Obama didn't campaign on a sprawling, nearly $1 trillion new spending plan.
If he had pledged in October to double federal domestic discretionary spending in a matter of weeks - including increasing the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts by a third, spending hundreds of millions more on federal buildings and throwing tens of billions on every traditional liberal priority from job training to Pell Grants - he'd have been hard-pressed to win at all.
The president should read the transcript of the third presidential debate. He claimed his program represented "a net spending cut." He called himself "a strong proponent of pay-as-you-go. Every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches." He added, "We need to eliminate a whole host of programs that don't work."
Now, no president can adhere to every jot and tittle from his campaign, but the "I won" argument only works if the campaign program matches the governing program.
Obama himself seems confused on what exactly "I won" means. In a meeting with Republicans, he brandished "I won" as a defense of his version of tax relief. But he later used "I won" to push back against an excessive reliance on tax cuts, claiming that it had been repudiated during the campaign even though he talked every day on the trail of cutting taxes for "95 percent of working people" and never once mentioned a commitment to extreme deficit spending.
Obama has to make a case for the bill on the merits, a surpassingly difficult forensic task. In a Washington Post op-ed, Obama called for "swift, bold and wise" action, but it's possible to have at most two of those things at once. The current legislation is swift and bold (indeed, shameless) but not remotely wise.
The bill came out of the House with a price tag of $819 billion. It would spend more in 2011 alone than in this year, and more in 2012 and beyond than in this year. Why far-off spending priorities have to be set in a rush now is something no one can explain - except that congressional Democrats want to toss bulging sacks of cash out the door.
Obama writes that the bill "is more than a prescription for short-term spending - it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity." Fine. A long-term strategy deserves long-term deliberation, the hearings and other processes meant to exercise a check on legislating in a panic.
The Congressional Budget Office notes that "large fiscal stimulus is rarely attempted" and its effects "are very uncertain." The bill is basically a $1 trillion bet on an utterly unproven theory - that scattershot government spending is a magic elixir for an economy in the grips of a financial crisis.
When Barack Obama ran last year, he didn't say he'd engage in faith-based economy policy on a grand scale. He didn't say he'd toss aside the normal processes of governing. He didn't say he'd quickly act to add waste to the federal budget. And he didn't say he'd try to brush away criticism with the mere assertion of his victory.
On the stimulus, when Obama says "I won," he's out of better arguments.