Okay, so the deal is done and the votes are all but counted. We have ourselves a stimulus plan. And while Obama got what he wanted when he wanted (who secretly replaced the congressional Democratic leaders with people who get things done early??), he didn’t get it in the way he wanted, as the Times’ Dick Stevenson and Slate’s John Dickerson point today. From Dickerson’s story:
Obama promised his administration would be so transparent that its deliberations would be shown on C-SPAN. Had cameras recorded negotiations on the stimulus bill, it would have looked like a scene from Animal Crackers. As Jeff Zeleny reported, the stimulus deal was so opaque even the people negotiating it weren’t in on what was in it.
Obama and his aides are quick to point out that the stimulus bill includes transparency provisions. So maybe we shouldn’t worry. There’s going to be a Web site, www.recovery.gov, which will allow people to make sure the money from the stimulus bill is being spent wisely. That’s fine as far as it goes. But that isn’t far enough to get us out of the depot. The time for transparency is when a decision is being made, not after it has been issued. Once a piece of legislation has been agreed to, or a project has been put in motion, pointing to a Web site doesn’t create much moral pressure to undo the deed.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Barack Obama’s very own Web site says about transparency in legislative negotiations:
End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors: As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people’s trust in their government by making government more open and transparent. Obama will work to reform congressional rules to require all legislative sessions, including committee mark-ups and conference committees, to be conducted in public.
Pointing out this contradiction is not going to undo the bill.
The deal also shows the limits to Obama’s seemly limitless power. For all his courtship and attention, he only got three Republicans on board for the top priority of an immensely popular president on an issue everyone agreed something had to be done. Many more Republicans will likely vote for the final product but in reaching across the aisle, Obama has grabbed a lot of air thus far — a calculated bet by the GOP that, while embarrassing Obama now, could backfire in 2010 if the economy turns around.