The story of the morning seems to be that the Obama team is unhappy with Nancy Pelosi and the House committee chairs for delivering up such a liberal, pork-laden bill that they themselves really had nothing to do with.
"Anonymous staffers" are fanning out to fuel the fiction that "during the transition Summers, his deputy Jason Furman, and the White House’s top Congressional liason, Phil Schiliro, laid out the broad principles they wanted the bill to adhere to, but when it came to actual content, they deferred to the chairmen."
Except that it’s not true. The Obama transition team has been working on the substance of the bill from day one. Their first step was to go to the Association of Mayors, the National Governors’ Associations and other non-congressional groups and say "give us all your shovel-ready projects." That and other provisions written by the Obama team became the spine of the bill. It went through only three committee markups, and moved through the House at lightening speed in a way that made many House chairs unhappy, with the notable exception of Dave Obey (now also under attack) who helped push it through quickly.
The House bill is notable not only for its size but also because it had no earmarks, which are the lifeblood of House members, the way they show their constituents what they’re doing for them. As one person knowledgable about the writing of the bill says, "if you’re in the House why would you write a bill without earmarks unless you didn’t write the bill?"
But with public opinion quickly turning against the bill, and the House Republicans claiming the moral high ground as they held formation to oppose him, how could Obama be distanced from responsibility for elements of the bill under GOP attack and remain above the fray? That seemed to be the locus of White House concern, and according to those familiar with what happened, the "polarizing" Nancy Pelosi was designated to take the fall.
See the ridiculous story spoon-fed to Jay Newton-Small of Time this morning entitled "Obama vs. Pelosi: Can the President Work with the Democrats?"
In explaining why not a single Republican voted for the stimulus package, the GOP squarely blamed Pelosi for failing to live up to Obama’s bipartisan mantra and writing a bill without any input from the other side.
Actually, they blamed Rahm:
We won the election, we wrote the bill," said Pelosi as many times as she could to an open microphone. But what was happening away from the microphone made it even easier for the Republicans to hold together. All they had to do was bring up Rahm Emanuel.
“Rahm hates us and lets us know it, and we hate him back,” said a senior Republican.
Curious how that didn’t make it into the Time piece.
That may well be because the architect of this strategy is Rahm Emanuel himself, and his first step was to leak that Obama was commiserating with House Republicans about how awful the bill was. Then using Jim Cooper as a cutout, it was leaked that Obama was unhappy with the waste in the stimulus bill and that his people had urged Cooper to vote against the bill and oppose Pelosi.
Although Cooper later walked back the statement, the damage was done — John Fund and others had picked up the baton and were spreading the meme that anything objectionable in this bill was Pelosi’s fault, and that Obama was quite rightly angry about it. When Jake Tapper asked Robert Gibbs about the Cooper comment and Gibbs wouldn’t deny that it had happened, Pelosi’s fate as designated "sin eater" for everything the GOP and the cannibalizing press found objectionable about the bill was sealed.
Headlines this morning are filled with the theme that Obama is "losing the messaging war" over the bill. But that’s mostly because he never saw it as a fight in the first place. Early polling indicated that the idea of a "stimulus" was only popular with economists who wanted to see their charts change, what the public wanted was jobs. The Obama team belatedly began calling it the "economic recovery plan," but it never stuck and the damage was done.
Rather than define the bill by its substance and make its opponents attack jobs creation, the strategy was to talk about process — how everyone’s ideas on both sides of the aisle would be welcome and that this bill would represent the best bipartisan thinking about how to face the current economic crisis. That left the door wide open for Republicans to step through and caterwaul that their ideas weren’t being respected in this new halcyon world of bipartisanship, and somebody had to take the blame. Nancy Pelosi, come on down!
Now that conventional wisdom has calcified around the notion that this bill is "deeply flawed," Senate "moderates" eager to flex their muscles are busying themselves hacking entire limbs off of it and turning it into something unrecognizable. The Obama camp is belatedly trying to send a positive message about it, but are applauding this transmogrification and seem concerned only with passing something at this point so Obama doesn’t suffer his own HillaryCare nary two weeks in office — and making sure someone else carries the blame. Someone who’s seat, it should be noted, is eyed by Rahm Emanuel for his post-White House tenure.
The dream of 80 Senate signatures by inauguration day seems a million miles away.