As we watch this unpalatable sausage being made in the congress, it does pay to keep in mind that it actually could be worse. Here's a little moment of deja vu:
April 22, 1993
G.O.P. Senators Prevail, Sinking Clinton's Economic Stimulus Bill
By ADAM CLYMER,
Senate Republicans killed President Clinton's economic stimulus program today, maintaining their filibuster until Democrats surrendered and agreed to limit the bill to $4 billion for extended unemployment benefits.
Mr. Clinton's first serious legislative defeat was marked by complaints from Democrats in the Senate and the White House. But Bob Dole, the Senate minority leader, was satisfied that the Republicans had shown that they deserved to be taken seriously. He avoided gloating, and promised occasional cooperation with the President.
A brief, harsh outburst from Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, served as the eulogy for Mr. Clinton's original $19.5 billion measure, which was proposed in February. He said Republicans would accept "billions for unemployment, not one cent for jobs."
A 'Difference of Philosophy'
On the winning side, Senator Dole quietly argued that Republicans, too, want jobs. But asserting that "a fundamental difference of philosophy has brought us to this point," the Kansas Senator said his party viewed the plan as too expensive and fatally flawed because it added to the deficit instead of having its spending matched by cuts elsewhere in the budget.
As originally offered, the bill included about $4 billion to extend unemployment benefits, $2 billion for education grants, $6 billion for highways and public improvements and $2 billion for summer jobs. The Republicans were especially critical of $2.5 billion in community development block grant spending, which they said would pay for pork barrel projects.
Senator Dole minimized the ramifications of today's action. "It's just a bump in the road for President Clinton," he said, adding that Republicans would support him on other measures, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.
This morning the Democrats, who hold a 57-43 majority in the Senate, failed for the fourth time to break the filibuster; under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to end debate.
Once again, they failed to get a single Republican to vote to cut off debate. Fifty-six Democrats voted to end debate, while one, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, voted with the 42 Republicans who were present to keep the filibuster going. Senator Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, did not vote.
Last Friday Mr. Clinton cut his original $19.5 billion package to $16.4 billion. Then, after today's vote to end the debate failed, the Democrats offered another version, with $12.9 billion in spending and $5 billion of it offset by cuts elsewhere.
But the Republicans spurned that suggestion and offered a counterproposal of their own, with $6.55 billion in spending, up from the $6 billion plan they offered on Monday.
There were brief talks about each of these schemes, but nothing approaching serious negotiation.
Democrats had hoped that some Republicans who frequently vote with them on other issues would desert their filibuster, and tried to put heat on them at home. But one of their prime targets, Senator James M. Jeffords of Vermont, said he fully agreed with the rejection of the Democratic offers. The Republican proposal, he said, was offered in the knowledge that there was "no likelihood it will be accepted."
That same theme was heard again tonight from Mr. Stephanopoulos, who said other losers were "the good moderate Republicans out there who wanted to come forward with a real jobs package but were prevented by their leadership."
Moderates Did Not Waver
But at no point during the Easter recess did any of the moderate Republicans in the Senate appear to be wavering. Some may have hoped that a deal would be struck, but none moved to make it happen.
After the Senate voted the unemployment money by unanimous consent, Mr. Dole told reporters that he believed the Clinton Administration would now understand the value of consulting with Republicans on such future issues as health care. "I think the White House may have misjudged the fact that when we stick together, we have some influence," he said.
But Senator Byrd was unwilling to see the issue that way.
"While the other side is busy congratulating each other on proving that they are a force to be reckoned with, they have only proved to the American people that they are the guardians of gridlock," he said. "While the champagne corks are popping, millions of Americans will open a can of beans and wonder whether they are going to find a job."
Clinton had won with a plurality and had nothing like the kind of popular support that Obama has today. And the economy was actually coming out of the recession, although it was still a jobless recovery at that time. The Republicans had about the same number as they have today but they realized that they could simply defy the president. The media of the day had long before declared the honeymoon was over and had been harassing him relentlessly over all manner of trumped up trivia. By the time the president's larger economic proposal made its way to the congress, he was having trouble with the "centrists" in his own party.
The Gingrich storm troopers went on to pass legislation (stupidly signed by Clinton) that made it unnecessary for the Republicans to filibuster any bill that adds to the deficit since anyone raising the issue could make 60 votes necessary, which is what happened here. (Following California's sad example, the national Republicans put landmines all over the budget process making it very difficult to act in an emergency.)
Clinton also ran as a bipartisan healer, and as Bob Dole said at the time, the Republicans were anxious to work with him on NAFTA, which they did. (I expect that "entitlement reform" is their bipartisan wet dream this time.)
But it isn't 1993. Today we have a president who won a decisive victory with an express mandate for change, which I think is logical interpret as being a change from the policies of the other party.(Villagers disagree. They think Obama's promise of change was that Democrats would stop even pretending to have any differences from Republicans.) Yet, still we have the same old crap, although this time the stimulus will squeak by with three "moderate" Republican votes --- which were bought at great price to the efficacy of the plan itself, even though we are on the precipice of an economic catastrophe. (This is probably because of the weakness of the GOP leadership more than anything. Still, only three...)
In case anyone still thinks this talk of catastrophe is hyperbolic, I put the following chart up over the week-end, but now it's been updated to show all post WWII recessions.
Because of that, Obama will pass this bill, and keeping our fingers crossed, it will get the job done. And if he's deft, he'll get other needed legislation passed as well. But let's not pretend that anything that isn't a strictly conservative agenda item will be "bipartisan." Perhaps if we go all the way over the cliff, and have a great depression, we'll see the Republicans act responsibly. But I wouldn't bet on it. They never have yet.
Update: CNN keeps citing their new poll that says only 54% of people approve of the stimulus bill and saying that's why the Republicans are resisting. (I know, but this is the media we're talking about ...) How do they know that some of the people who disapprove of the stimulus do so because it isn't enough?
Update II: The above chart is misleading. From Kevin Drum:
[T]his one shows employment decline in percentage terms, not as raw job losses. This is a better way of doing it since the population of the U.S. has grown substantially since 1974. But it still looks plenty bad. Right now we can say that this is the worst recession since 1981, but by summer it's almost certain that we'll be saying it's the worst recession since World War II.
h/t to pinkopunko