If you watched President Elect Obama’s first press conference, you might have heard him say:
The one thing I can say with certainty is that we are going to need to see a stimulus package passed either before or after inauguration.
For some, that translated to: another check is on the way.
Not so fast.
It’s important to realize that while checks may be a part of the stimulus package, there are no guarantees. And, in fact, I think it highly unlikely that checks will be included in the plan; even before the elections, the most recent Democrat stimulus proposal did not include rebate checks. And now, while there may be a Democratic majority in Congress, the phrase that carries the day is likely to be “conservative fiscal spending.” Following the bloodletting in Congress over the economy, Congress is likely to move on a stimulus plan but expect resistance from moderate Democrats and Republicans over increased spending.
One part of the plan that will pass is an extension of jobless benefits. Obama has said, “A particularly urgent priority is a further extension of unemployment insurance benefits for workers who cannot find work in the increasingly weak economy. A fiscal stimulus plan that will jump-start economic growth is long overdue. I’ve talked about it throughout this — the last few months of the campaign. We should get it done.”
And Republicans seem to be in agreement on that issue.
It’s deja vu all over again. In 1993, when faced with a similar stimulus program by then President Clinton, Republicans in Congress balked at additional spending but felt “they could accept the funds in the stimulus package for unemployment benefits and some of the summer jobs for youth, highway construction and child immunization.”
Like the 2009 Congress, the 1993 Democrats had a majority but not enough to survive a filibuster. The GOP, realizing this, filibustered until the Democrats bowed to pressure and made spending concessions.
Will there be a similar end this time? I don’t think a filibuster is necessarily in the cards, but expect a comparable power struggle. As Republicans struggle to regain their identity as the party of fiscal responsibility (a title they clearly have lost under the current administration), Democrats will have to understand that
money does not grow on trees a majority in Congress does not equal carte blanche. I think we’ll end up with a stimulus package which reflects a bipartisan effort: extend jobless benefits, increase infrastructure spending and allow additional tax breaks. It’s also a possibility that there may be a bailout for the auto industry with the recent bad news from GM (as well as Ford and Chrysler). Also my call: no rebate checks in this stimulus package. But then, I’ve also played Ben Roethlisberger for Fantasy Football this season… so clearly my judgment doesn’t rule the day.