To prevent a filibuster, the administration has to coddle the Senate's Great Men (and Women) Of The Center. Specter insisting the plan cost less than either the $820 billion house bill or the $838 billion senate version---knocking $40-58 billion, 5% or more, off of a stimulus that may already be too small. And with the final total looking like it will be $790 billion, pretty much succeeding. A few Republican moderates (and a Democrat or two) holding the economy hostage so that --- what? Their power be recognized? It's been a while since I saw Specter in action in a hearing, but I recall, perhaps erroneously, a really bad gut-check about the guy as he browbeat some poor sap, or maybe some perfectly reasonable guy he happened not to agree with. True, he's been a voice of reason on some issues, but I was not impressed. Maybe the Republican moderates feel they have something to take back to their party in order not to be drummed out of it for supporting the plan at all. Specter also insisting on keeping $10 billion for NIH untouched, while an increase for the NSF was scaled back by the Senate plan---what's with that, does NIH have a facility in Pennsylvania, or is Specter just a health nut?
Probably Obama's playing it cool at this point is the right game plan... getting the thing passed without having to break a filibuster is probably much better for his long-run efficacy. But I worry that it is not large enough---that by not signing on, but effectively watering it down through the implcit threat of a filibuster, the Republicans are setting up---not consciously for the most part, except that there probably are those who believe an extended recession is better than any increase in government spending---to try to benefit from an unnecessary extension of the recession. At some point---perhaps on the second batch of stimulus that will likely turn out to be necess, crying "stimulus was ineffective". I'm not sure Obama will get a chance to put in another round of stimulus, though he occasionally talks of it. And, he may be able to get in another round under the guise of longer-term public investment, which he has called for, with stimulus as a side-benefit. But I imagine there will be a filibuster showdown at some point. Hopefully the chits will be called in and the moderates will help him break it, maybe with another ceremonial multi-billion-dollar bone or two as compensation. But it is frustrating that the "senate moderates" are as boneheaded as they are about this. One can only hope they are doing it because they feel the need to shelter themselves from the ire of their party.
From the AP:
"Earlier Tuesday, the Senate sailed to approval of its $838 billion economic stimulus bill, but with only three moderate Republicans signing on and then demanding the bill's cost go down when the final version emerges from negotiations.
Negotiators initially were working with a target of about $800 billion for the final bill, lawmakers said. But GOP moderate Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Tuesday night on MSNBC's "Hardball" that he was insisting on a figure at around $780 billion."
Credit for the pound of flesh metaphor to Paul Krugman, back on Feb. 6th.