Principled liberals defend the bill while conceding that roughly half the discretionary "emergency" spending won't even start until two years from now. (Funny coincidence: That's right around the time Obama's re-election campaign will kick off.) Good social policy is good social policy, no matter how you get it enacted, they say.
Putting aside the question of whether the ornaments dangling from every branch of this legislative Christmas tree amount to good policy, there's still the matter of why Democrats are afraid of the normal process. Sneaking into the package hundreds of millions for, say, sex education, the National Endowment for the Arts and sod for the National Mall doesn't suggest a lot of confidence that Americans support such liberal priorities.
But that's OK. As the president is so fond of pointing out, the Democrats won. They're in the driver's seat. To govern is to choose, and these are the choices they've made.
The Democrats have shown no desire to craft real bipartisan legislation, which is their right, even if it contradicts Obama's campaign promises. And the vast majority of Republicans have shown little desire to back legislation that violates their principles simply for the sake of "doing something." The moderate mooncalves, who expect Republicans to sign on essentially for signing-on's sake, really want Republicans to stop being Republicans.
"I am supporting the economic stimulus package for one simple reason," Specter wrote in the Post. "The country cannot afford not to take action." Such thinking is the purest nonsense. Sure, if your house is burning down, you can't afford not to take action. That doesn't mean any action is better than no action. Grabbing a fire hose is good. Grabbing a jerrycan of gasoline and dancing the Macarena, not so much.
Of the myriad problems with difference-splitting, perhaps the most pernicious is that it is also difference-blurring. If the stimulus bill is good policy, let Democrats take the credit for it and Republicans the blame for opposing it. If it's a disaster, let all praise and honor go to the GOP and let Democrats pay the price.
Democracy is about disagreement; let the parties have their disagreement.