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All of these strands have come together in the evolution of the current Obama economic-stimulus plan. In this time of crisis, a stimulus plan must provide immediate economic stimulus. Period. But, from the outset, Obama and his principal political (though not economic) advisers have kept describing the crisis as an opportunity to address other issues of importance to them. Thus the expansion of Head Start, computerization of medical records, a new green agenda, build-out of broadband, and other objectives have been jammed into an ever expanding legislative package which, day by day, has been losing momentum in the Congress and among the American people.
If Obama could start over, he no doubt would present a stimulus package containing only immediate business and personal tax cuts; money to states to cover unmet social service and unemployment obligations; and public-works spending with a short-term jobs payoff.
As the package now stands, however, it provides little short-term stimulus; much long-term spending; and policy initiatives which may or may not be meritorious but which will decidedly not jumpstart the economy in 2009. His initial plan has been taken over by House and Senate members who are transforming it into a traditional legislative Christmas tree, with ornaments for everyone.
A bipartisan package will emerge and be enacted shortly. A small percentage of it will help the economy short-term. But its weaknesses, and the distractions about Cabinet nominees, have shaken Obama's standing in the capital, if not yet among the American people.
I continue to have faith in Obama and believe he will be a successful president. As with others before him, he soon will be forced to take the measure of those around him. And he clearly must be sure that he knows and understands the content of his own central proposals and be prepared to deflect attempts to change them. His next challenge will come with Financial Rescue Plan II. That one has to be right and cannot be sub-contracted to the Congress to change as it pleases. He must fight for it and take on Hill critics of both parties.
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