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Two Sides of a Debate
Bipartisanship produced Friday's stimulus deal -- but Washington hasn't yet changed.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

THE $780 BILLION stimulus package deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House Friday was the culmination of a frenzied week that reflected two strains of politics. One embraced President Obama's attempt to rise above the partisan squabbles that too often have paralyzed Washington. Another made it clear that the old ways will die hard.

The gang of 20 or so moderate Democrats and Republicans, led by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), heeded the president's call for bipartisanship and hunkered down to produce the bill announced Friday night. Though the details of the package still need to be examined, the senators' effort was an admirable one -- one that aimed at providing the quick and large injection of funds into the economy experts say is necessary, while modifying or removing parts of the bill that were too long-range or complex for an emergency bill, or which blatantly served special interests.

The effort wasn't helped by those senators, including the leadership on both sides of the aisle, who wallowed in customary blame-gamesmanship. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) accused the moderates of trying to hold the president hostage. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) derided the impending bill as an "aimless spending spree that masquerades as a stimulus." Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) went theatrical. He held up a copy of an earlier version of the Senate stimulus plan to slam the process that led to its creation. She brandished her own copy to complain that Mr. Graham never resorted to such antics when they considered President Bush's bailout bill for Wall Street. Friday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) jumped in, deriding the quest for bipartisanship as a "process argument" and claiming that potential cuts in the Senate bill "will do violence to the future."

For his part, Mr. Obama has dabbled in both arenas. Coffee, drinks and huddles with Republicans on Capitol Hill and at the White House over the past two weeks gave way this week to more partisan warnings to Republicans not to "turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected in the last election." In the end the White House showed pragmatism in striking Friday's deal. Mr. Obama now must go to work to ensure that the fragile consensus survives a conference committee and a vote in Ms. Pelosi's House -- where there has been, as yet, no sign of the new politics he seeks.

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