1993 All Over Again?
Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:03 am
One of the goals of the unanimous Republican “no” vote on the stimulus package Wednesday was producing news analyses like this one, from The New York Times.
The failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency.
And we all know what happened in 1994. Still, I don’t think the analogy holds up.
1. The Obama stimulus package is popular. A May 25, 1993 Gallup poll pegged support for Clinton’s plan at 44 percent, and opposition at 45 percent. The Democratic House narrowly supported the plan two days later. But the final Gallup poll before yesterday’s House vote put support for President Obama’s plan at 52 percent, with opposition at only 37 percent. Even a flawed Republican poll on the stimulus (which suggests that tax cuts are more popular than spending, ignoring the fact that the stimulus includes both) revealed that most voters, panicking about the economy, support the stimulus package.
2. Clinton wasn’t popular; Obama is. As Michael Crowley points out, Clinton was already reeling from scandals and missteps by May 1993, when the budget vote was held. His popularity had dipped below 50 percent, and in some polls his net approval rating had inched into negative territory. Clinton’s Democrats were less popular than Obama’s Democrats—while Clinton was beating President George H.W. Bush, the party was losing seats in the House Banking Scandal backlash. Obama is cresting in the mid-60s or low-70s, depending on the poll, the Democrats have gained ground in two consecutive elections, and voter identification with the Democrats is soaring.
3. The Clinton budget raised taxes; the Obama stimulus doesn’t. I think this is the most important distinction. The Clinton budget reconciliation increased income taxes, raised the corporate tax rate to 35 percent, and raised the gas tax by 4.3 cents per gallon. Basically, every American paid more taxes after the budget was passed. The Obama stimulus package doesn’t raise anyone’s taxes. It includes $275 billion of tax cuts. Are they poorly designed? Arguably. But they’re tax cuts! I literally cannot remember a time when the entire Republican conference in either house voted against tax cuts. In that Republican poll mentioned above, upwards of 60 percent of voters want tax cuts right now.
The Republican strategy here is incredibly bold. The party’s betting against Obama’s current popularity and against the chance of an economic recovery by 2010 (or 2012), having done very little work convincing Americans that the stimulus tax rebates amount to “welfare” (one popular argument) or that, after eight years of deficit spending, voters should worry about the cost of this bill. I’m skeptical about the political oomph of attacking “wasteful spending,” even though (in a growing economy, at least) it makes more sense than endless tax cuts. But maybe the strategy will pay off. Or maybe putting 177 Republicans on record against tax cuts will come back to hurt them. We’ll find out.
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