Howlin' Dogs

by digby

I hope what dday writes below is true and that the stimulus works like a charm because if it doesn't, it looks like this is going to be the only clean shot. The Republicans may be all over TV flexing and posing, but like the WWF wrestlers they imitate, they are all for show.

The real problem is, as we should have known, with the Blue Dogs:

Obama budget promise wins Blue Dog support

House Democrats won a key procedural vote Tuesday on the stimulus after a last-minute promise from the Obama administration to return to “pay-as-you-go” budget rules after the stimulus is approved.

In a 224-199 vote, the House approved a resolution allowing the stimulus bill to come to the floor for debate. Twenty-seven Democrats – 24 of them members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition – bucked their leadership and voted against the measure.

But according to Democratic leadership sources, the number was almost much higher – and could have been high enough to hand the Republicans a monumental victory – had it not been for a letter from President Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag.

The letter addressed to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David promised to return to “pay-as-you-go budgeting,” and stressed that the stimulus was an “extraordinary response to an extraordinary process” and thus subject to different rules.

“It should not be seen as an opportunity to abandon the fiscal discipline that we owe each and every taxpayer in spending their money – and that is critical to keeping the United States strong in a global, interdependent economy,” the letter stated.

Orszag also emphasized that Obama’s support for paying for any temporary tax cuts in the stimulus that he would like to make permanent. The budget director said Obama would detail those offsets in his budget.

“Moving forward, we need to return to the fiscal responsibility and pay-as-you-go budgeting that we had in the 1990’s for all non-emergency measures,” Orszag continued. “The President and his economic team look forward to working with the Congress to develop budget enforcement rules that are based on the tools that helped create the surpluses of a decade ago.

“Putting the country back on the path of fiscal responsibility will mean tough choices and difficult trade-offs, but for the long-term health of our economy, the President believes that they must be made.”

Though addressed to Obey, Democratic sources said copies of the letter were distributed in a last minute flurry to Blue Dogs, many of whom were already on the floor and ready to cast their votes. The centrist group already was ruffled by the fact the package included far more spending than Obama had called for, and were prepared to vote as a block against the resolution, Democratic sources said.

If eight more of the 52-member Blue Dogs had voted against the resolution, it would have been defeated, ending any hope that Democratic leaders had of passing – or even finishing debate on – the stimulus bill this week.

The Orszag gesture did not arrive in time for some, but it did for some others, including Blue Dog Co-Chair Charlie Melancon (D-La.).

“In his letter, Dr. Orszag’s reference to restoring the pay-as-you-go requirements we had in place in the 1990’s is a clear and direct signal that President Obama is willing to make the tough decisions necessary to put our country back on a path to fiscal responsibility,” Melancon said after voting for the resolution. “After years of reckless deficit spending, the members of the Blue Dog Coalition are very encouraged to see that our new administration is serious about bringing responsibility and accountability to the federal government.”

Gosh, all we need is another dot-com bubble and the deja vu economic recovery will be perfect.

The Blue Dogs are conservatives who consistently vote on the deficit issue, whether against tax cuts or government spending. This is their main distinction from the Republicans who actually want to take money from working people and give it to corporations and the wealthy. But mostly, they are simply intellectually lazy people who I suspect find that it's always a purple district crowd pleaser to make the anti-debt argument. It is one of those things you can say in a mixed political crowd that everyone can agree upon. Who likes debt? But it's a governing cop-out. Sometimes debt is necessary to survive or invest for the future --- a point which they have no problem making when it comes to military spending.

Unfortunately, we are in very difficult economic times which require that the government be free to act with some dispatch and creativity in order to keep this thing from turning into a catastrophe. This is not the time for their simple minded brand of fiscal discipline. As I've said before, it's like telling the patient he needs to jog and go on a diet while he's in the middle of a heart attack. It's good advice, but not particularly relevant at that moment.

If things get demonstrably worse, I assume that the congress will have to act. But it's instructive that these people are seen as principled, upstanding guardian's of the nation's well being, while the rest of the Democrats who are struggling to pass a bill that injects needed cash into this ailing economy to save it from depression are widely derided as corrupt, incompetent boobs. It's a testament to how deeply conservative indoctrination still holds in our political discourse. And it shows just how toxic it is to the nation's health.

I'm not crazy about Obama's post-partisan schtick, because I think there is a villain in this piece and I think people need to know who it is. (That's why I like Roosevelt's line about "I welcome their hatred" and some of Obama's sharper lines in his inaugural address.) But his rhetoric of "we are all in this together" is a step in the right direction to create an alternative narrative of politics besides the Randian vision of the brave individualist up against the evil government monopoly. If his policies succeed, and he cares to take up the task of reorienting people's thinking seriously, it could begin to turn that around.

But right now in Washington, it's still a Republican/Blue Dog world and we just live in it. And because of that "what works" apparently means what works to keep Blue Dogs on the team.(And when I say Blue Dogs, I 'm not just referring to the House, but also to the insanely overbearing egos in the Senate as well. I suspect the show is about to get even more surreal when it moves over there.) Without these bizarre Democratic figures, the Democrats don't have a majority.

Luckily, they were able to appease them enough to keep them from defecting on the stimulus in the House, but they will continue to hold a gun to the president's head while the Republicans are out spinning like dervishes to the same end. They make quite a tag team.