Do Democrats Want to 'Own' the Economy?

It’s hard to find an economist or prognosticator who thinks that the economy is going to turn around quickly. It seems today that the 2010 election may be a referendum on what Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats do to restore economic growth. But rather than try to ensure that Republicans share the responsibility for the economy, it seems today that Democrats are eager to make sure that they alone ‘own’ the issue.

Democratic leaders have already signaled that they’re likely to cut Republicans out of the crafting of the coming stimulus bill by skipping the standard committee process. Republicans therefore won’t get the chance to ask questions or offer amendments in committee, and instead will be asked to vote on a spending bill of unprecedented size just hours after seeing it for the first time.

Now Speaker Pelosi says that the only hearings to be held on the bill will occur outside the committees as well, and only Democrats will be invited:

The Steering and Policy Committee, which is co-chaired by two Democrats close to Pelosi, will hold the first hearing on a stimulus when Congress convenes next week, Pelosi announced. No Republicans sit on the panel.

The non-legislative committee — which does not mark up legislation and holds few hearings — will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 7, to consider “the state of the economy and the need for a comprehensive jobs and economic recovery package,” according to Steering and Policy co-chairmen George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

“This hearing will build upon the stimulus package the House passed in September and the numerous hearings held by our other committees, to ensure we make the necessary investments in an innovative and bold way to strengthen the economy,” Pelosi said in a statement announcing the move…

It remains unclear whether the stimulus bill will go through the traditional legislative process and examination by any number of legislative committees, including the Appropriations panels of either chamber.

So Republicans aren’t invited to help craft the bill, probably won’t get the standard opportunity to review the bill and offer amendments, and won’t even get to listen to the witnesses whose views and recommendations establish the foundation for the package? Under these circumstances, there’s no way Democrats can expect any Republican to vote for Obama’s plan. Instead the Republican rank and file have ample reason to vote according to conscience and political convenience.

For an administration dedicated to not repeating the mistakes of the Clinton era, this demonstrates stunning ignorance. In 1994 Democrats were crushed at the polls partly because not a single Republican was on record in support of Bill Clinton’s unpopular economic program. If Obama solicited proposals from Republicans and incorporated some of them into the stimulus legislation, Republicans would be on the hook. Some would have to vote for it, and few could campaign against it in 2010. Instead they’re shutting Republicans out, and allowing them to pick the stance that they think will do them the most political good.

This is a great plan for Democrats if the economy is humming along and adding jobs by the bucketload in 20 months or so. If not, Democrats are likely to be in trouble.