The first problem is that the congressional sausage factory can produce laws with embarrassing amounts of gristle and waste matter. Appropriators wrote their wish lists into the stimulus bill, and while the results might look attractive to their constituents, they were held up to ridicule by Republicans and bipartisan critics of pork-barrel spending. The stimulus package hasn't gotten any more popular as the details have come out.
Second, there is a danger of being whipsawed between competing extremes. In a story on the front page of Tuesday's Washington Post, advocates of a government health insurance plan threatened to withhold 70 votes if the House Democratic leadership propitiated moderate Democrats who have qualms about destroying private insurance. Douglas cobbled together the Kansas-Nebraska Act with some provisions supported by one half of the Senate and others backed by the other half, with the only overlapping vote being Douglas' own. It's not clear that today's party leaders have the skill to achieve this impressive political feat.
Finally, there is the problem that Congress can simply ignore the president's priorities, as the Republican Congress ignored George W. Bush on Social Security in 2005. That could be the fate of cap-and-trade legislation. Nearly half the Senate Democrats voted against including this in the budget resolution, which would have made it easier to pass -- a clear sign that members from states and districts that depend on coal-fired electric plants don't want to impose high utility rates, not just on those evil folks who make more than $250,000 but also on the considerably larger number of their constituents who use electricity.
In the meantime, we are presented with a scene that would have delighted Mark Twain. A president who campaigned for office promising to banish lobbyists from his midst has left it in the hands of Congress to work out all the details of complex legislation that would have enormous effects on economic activities of all sorts. The entirely predictable result is a profusion of lobbyists such as Washington has never seen. Quite an accomplishment for the candidate who promised hope and change.
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