Thursday, 5 February 2009

Obama's tough week

Who said it would be easy? And guess what, it's not. Having lost Tom Daschle- and apologised- and facing a tough battle to get his stimulus package passed, this is the week when Washington began to return to business as usual. Despite whopping majorities in the both the House of Representatives and the Senate, life still has its formidable challenges for a president elected on a landslide.

That is actually a strength of the US Constitution. The stimulus package is needed. But like the bank bail-out before it, Congress should not suspend its critical faculties. Joe Klein argues that the stimulus should have been split in to smaller packages: an energy and the environment bill, an education bill, a public works bill, ahealthcare bill, and a tax cutting bill. There is a risk that by merging all these elements the new administration has overplayed its hand.

President Obama for his part has come out fighting. He has an op-ed today in the Washington Post which aims to re-adjust the debate upwards and flush away the trivial level to which a lot of the discussion has sunk.

(As an aside, the Washington Post declares the writer to be 'president of the United States.' I love that sort of attention to detail- perhaps there will be some form of holocaust that wipes out all historical memory and one day our descendants will emerge from a nuclear fog and attempt to piece together human history once again. Low, they stumble upon a solitary copy of the Washington Post that somehow was preserved in amber and so now they know who was president on February 5th 2009.)

Back to the stimulus. Congress is there to work on the trivia as well as the big picture and Klein may be right that better things come in smaller packages. There will be lots of wrangling. If there is one time that something so ambitious could get through Congress it is now. Maybe it's a punt that is almost but not quite too far.

What is clear is that 'stimulus' is only part of the story when it comes to this $800billion or so. Energy independence, the environment, cutting the costs of healthcare (why was the NHS IT project not presented in that way?), improving schools, investing in road and energy infrastructure, and much more is also included. It certainly, in terms of scope and ambition, matches the FDR package of measures.

One or two commentators seem to be insisting on describing President Obama as 'conservative.' Far from conservative, this package is exceptionally radical. It may be pragmatic. The most extreme of times demand radical intervention as the only pragmatic response. Times are getting tougher for President Obama. He still remains up for it.

Post script: Michael Hirsh of Newsweek calls for more leadership from President Obama. He seems to be responding.

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