Mon, 09 Feb 2009 23:20:25 +0000 – By Phil KerpenDirector of Policy, Americans for Prosperity
Just moments ago the Senate mustered 61 votes to squeak through the Collins-Nelson amendment, better known as the "compromise" stimulus plan. If you listen to the mainstream media, this means the fight is over, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama win, and it's time to move on. Well, not so fast.
[caption id="attachment_6431" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (AP file photo)"][/caption]
The public hates this bill. Intensely. The more they learn about it, the more they hate it. The anti-stimulus website NoStimulus.comwas so flooded with traffic that it crashed this morning, then it was brought back up with three servers and promptly crashed again.
The trillion dollar question is whether that anger breaks through into the Washington bubble before it's too late.
The Senate bill, as amended last night, is set to pass the Senate by the same razor thin margin that we saw in the House -- by just 61 votes -- that's all 58 Democrats plus Sens. Collins, Snowe, and Specter. This, despite the fact that the compromise, sold as being "only" $780 billion, a modest reduction from the $819 billion Pelosi version, was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, just before the vote, to cost $838.2 billion. That's well more than Collins and Nelson claimed, and also well more than the House bill. -- Only in Washington would that be called a compromise.
Now it gets interesting. The bill will go to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was already calling for the conference committee to pork the bill up minutes after the Nelson-Collins deal was announced. The House conferees will be the old-line liberal-bull committee chairman--people like Reps. Dave Obey, Charlie Rangel, and John Spratt. They will fight to add back as much pork as possible, including brand new pork not in either the House or Senate version. The conference committee could become a brand-new feeding frenzy that significantly adds to both the overall price tag of the bill and the list of embarrassing special interest giveaways.
That sets up a showdown in the House, between Pelosi and the committee chairman on one side and the so-called Blue Dogs and New Democrat coalitions, which were already critical of the bill, and were hopeful that the Senate would trim some its worst excesses. Instead the Senate bill is already bigger than the House bill, and the bill is only expected to grow in conference.
There are 55 Democratic Congressmen who recently signed a letter to Pelosi objecting to the way this bill was rammed through without following the proper process. If Republicans stand together in opposition again, it will take 40 Democrats to stop the bill. Last vote, there were 11. That means 29 more must be convinced. That's tough, but not impossible, especially when you consider that many so-called "Blue Dogs" and other Democrats in conservative districts voted for the bill only because they expected the Senate to substantially reduce its size, and the Senate instead made it bigger. If public outrage remains intense, this week's House vote could be a replay of the "shocker" of the first House vote on TARP.
The bill could also run aground in the Senate, because Sen. Collins has said that she'll oppose the bill if more spending is added in conference, and it almost certainly will be. If Collins holds to her word, and one of two Senators, either Snowe or Specter follows her lead, Reid would fall short of the 60 votes he needs.
Even Congress's own economic scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office, says the stimulus does more economic harm than good. A plan so poorly designed economically can only be justified politically, which means public opinion is critical to its path. The trillion dollar question is whether that anger breaks through into the Washington bubble before it's too late.
Phil Kerpen is director of policy for Americans for Prosperity.