Absolutely the Worst Way to Handle the Stimulus Negotiation

News stories are now rampant that Obama is looking to “compromise” on the fiscal stimulus package. He has no need to do any such thing.

Obama has solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, and can pass his legislation without so much as a single Republican vote. I can guarantee you that the Republicans won’t filibuster the bill in the Senate. We have a reboot of the automaker bailout coming up next month, or in March at the latest, and we need to keep our powder dry for that.

What Obama is showing, rather, is a sincere desire to be perceived as bipartisan. That after all was one of the key rationales on which he sold his presidency, the other two being Hope (“you’ll get rich if I’m elected”) and Change (“have I mentioned that I’m black?”).

To this end, he’s met with Republican lawmakers on several well-publicized occasions. (This leaves me wondering whether he’s met with Democratic lawmakers at all, and why that doesn’t make news. Dog bites man, I guess.) The most substantive thing that’s come out of Obama’s meetings with the opposition, can be summed up in his pithy phrase, “I won.”

Remember that, for the next four years, when Obama tells you that his initiatives are fully bipartisan and supported by people on all sides of the aisle: “I won.”

Republicans have no need to support a wasteful fiscal stimulus package that plays not only to an orthodox economic theory that’s been disproved by decades of experience, but also to the worst instincts of Democratic populists. American consumers don’t need a fresh coat of paint on their government buildings. They need more savings in their bank accounts. Even if the measured effects on GDP would be smaller in the near term, an extensive and radical tax holiday will do more lasting good for the economy than the stimulus, as currently proposed.

The instinct of lawmakers of both parties is to make law. One gets the impression that any law would be better than nothing.

But let me reiterate: Republicans have no need to support this package. Obama has enough Democratic votes to enact it without needing us. It would be craven and self-defeating for Republicans to accept a few scraps thrown from the table, in the form of minimally-effective tax relief and lip service to small-business support, and then claim that their needs were responded to.

Obama will add a few items intended to appeal to Republicans. But Republicans should not be suckered into playing this game. That would be the worst possible way to handle this negotiation.

It can’t be said that this is a moment which requires bipartisan support. The voters have already changed the composition of Congress enough to make this unnecessary. Republicans can well afford to stand on principle.