- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Along with the Democratic majority and a few brave Republicans, President Barack Obama has worked hard and in good faith to get this economy back on its feet. That is why it astounds me that as the economy continues to slide with thousands losing their jobs daily, the opposition party insists on reducing itself to GOP-style “business as usual,” seeking to politicize the emergency stimulus bill for partisan gain.

Now that the Democratic-controlled Congress has moved forward with its plan to save or create more than 3 million jobs and make critical investments in our nation’s infrastructure, Mr. Obama should sign this vital piece of legislation the moment it arrives on his desk. Heck, given its emergency, Mr. Obama should sign it before it leaves the U.S. Capitol.

More than one-third of the bill is dedicated to providing tax relief for the middle class. It cuts taxes for 95 percent of American workers. And state governments ailing under the deepening recession will also get a lifeline, allowing them to help people where it is needed the most.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said — “The American people understand that the legislation we send to the president’s desk will not solve this crisis overnight. We cannot say for certain when this crisis will end, but we do know for certain that this is when recovery must begin.”

Mr. Reid is right. Congress could not wait until things worsen. The American people could not afford one more month of record unemployment. As Mr. Obama stated throughout the campaign, “This is our moment. This is our time.” And it’s past time that we help ordinary people struggling to make ends meet.

Nevertheless, the opposition continues to talk down the significance of the bipartisan compromise that led to this bill’s passage. At some point, they too should remember how we got here - and under whose watch it occurred.

Mr. Obama inherited a recession and a soaring deficit. The Bush administration created the conditions that call for this bold action, not only with its reckless economic policies, but also its total disdain for oversight and accountability. It is particularly relevant because while Republicans rail against this bill, they offered no new ideas, no new vision - they merely want to repeat the same mistakes that got us into this mess to begin with.

Meanwhile, why should anyone listen to these men and women who are responsible for the economy “cratering”? For close to six long years, the Republican-controlled Congress rubberstamped every spending bill that came their way from the Republican leader in the White House. They were shopaholics, spending every dollar in sight and borrowing against our children’s future. President Bush, with their blessing, racked up a gargantuan national debt - the largest under any president in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, as Republicans like Sens. Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins sought to find common ground with both the president and leading moderates in the U.S. Senate, their fellow Republicans spent the week just complaining about the legislation being too bloated, nitpicking over stimulus monies for the arts and, in the same breath, having the nerve to ask for more tax cuts for the rich. Are you kidding? This is not the path to bipartisanship.

And it’s surely not the path to giving hard-working taxpayers the very best rationale for why the government must step in to ease the suffering of so many people across our great nation. At some point - and this statement is not just directed at Republicans but Democrats, too - our leaders need to stop politicizing issues for partisan advantage, which they too often do, even when it’s at the expense of the nation’s security and survival.

The three moderate Republicans deserve credit for breaking ranks, for looking out for the country’s best interest rather than the opportunity to score a few cheap political points. The same shout-out of thanks should also go to Republican governors, especially California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida’s Charlie Crist.

Going forward, Democrats must not allow Republicans to define bipartisanship as the ability to appease the fringe elements of their party. Nor should Republicans have to appease the fringe elements of the Democratic Party to earn the bipartisan title. Neither parties should make demands based solely on some worn-out dogma nor request a certain numerical quota to move legislation when the majority votes should prevail or, in the case of the Senate, the two-thirds it takes to invoke cloture.

In the end, I suspect moderate Republican members like Sens. Specter, Collins and Snowe will continue to work with the White House and their Democratic counterparts in Congress to build a true bipartisan coalition. These members, working with the White House, will seek the common good in future bipartisan agreements based on common principles. That’s bipartisanship. That’s leadership.

The opposition who voted in lock-step to defeat the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did not act out of principle, unless “regain and retain power” as a guiding goal is now considered a principle.

They sought, by their near-unanimous opposition, to create chaos and confusion by cherry-picking through the legislation rather than offer an alternative that could garner the support of the majority. This is not what bipartisan means.

And Mr. Obama must continue to invite Republicans, lawmakers, governors, mayors and, yes, ordinary citizens to help usher in a new era in American politics.

As President Obama admitted in his first televised news conference, “The plan’s not perfect. No plan is.” He went further at a town hall meeting in Florida to take full responsibility for its success or failure. That’s refreshing.

But in listening to and reading the talking points of those who opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it is clear they sought to exercise a permanent minority veto over the direction chosen by the people in the 2008 presidential election.

This is not real change. It’s just going back to more of the same.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public radio and is Al Gore’s former campaign manager.

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