Stimulus maneuvers: First move in a long chess game

A budget expert argues Obama will be able to boost spending on his recovery plan in the near future, regardless of Republican opposition. But is his team really that smart?

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 9, 2009 3:18PM (EST)

Paul Krugman is glum. The compromises made by the Obama administration to get three Republican senators to sign on to the stimulus have gutted its potential effectiveness, he writes.

The real question now is whether Obama will be able to come back for more once it's clear that the plan is way inadequate. My guess is no. This is really, really bad.

But Brad DeLong points us to Roll Call's budget columnist, Stan Collender, who is considerably more optimistic, in a blog post titled "Disagreeing With Paul Krugman."

Collender observes that there will be several opportunities in the near future to increase government spending on stimulus components, through the normal budget appropriations process. The key fact: these specific bills, including a "reconciliation" bill for the 2010 budget process, can't be filibustered, which means the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate can do what they want.

My guess is that the Obama administration sees this, sees that it will get credit for even the changed version of the stimulus that is likely to get enacted, understands the political importance of an early legislative victory and, therefore, has decided to take what it can get now and come back for more in other ways in the not too distant future.

Krugman acknowledged Collender's thesis last night, calling it "cheerful." Whether happy talk or not, Collender's take definitely broadens the context for viewing the politics of the current stimulus bill. If the end result of Obama's maneuvers is to make him look as if he was the one to reach out to the other party but got harshly rebuffed, while at the same time keeping some cards in his back pocket that maintain his administration's freedom to act as necessary, that's some smooth operating.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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