This article on the political battles over President Obama's economic stimulus plan incorrectly described the route Winston Churchill took to power in 1940. Churchill became British prime minister after a fellow Conservative, Neville Chamberlain, resigned.
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Democrats and Republicans Line Up to Do Battle Over Results of Stimulus Package
And Republicans have made it clear that they intend to try to shift the economic debate toward concern about the federal deficit.
They are also preparing to use the ballooning deficit to renew their push for additional tax cuts. Groups including the Club for Growth and GOP leaders such as former House speaker Gingrich say such cuts would do more to improve the economy than the spending plan would.
"The Republicans' job is to say, 'Here's a model we know is going to work,' " Gingrich said in an interview. "If they do that, they will be astonished at how good 2010 will be."
Democrats have "taken a huge gamble," he added. "I can't imagine them spending $780 billion without so many examples of waste and corruption. Big bureaucratic spending . . . it never works."
Republicans rarely worried aloud about the deficit during the spending spree of George W. Bush's presidency, as Bush largely ignored the mounting red ink as he waged war in Iraq and battled terrorism. Many conservative Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), blamed last year's congressional and presidential losses on the lack of fiscal discipline shown by their party under Bush's leadership.
But the massive stimulus plan has given Republicans a political opportunity to try to erase the memory of those years by convincing the country that they have found religion again when it comes to spending.
Cantor says bluntly that Obama and Democrats have decided to "assume ownership of the era of the bailout." And he predicted that voters will recoil at the prospect of huge and growing deficits and an increase in the size and role of the federal government in their lives.
"I think the 2010 elections certainly will be a test for the mandate of change that this administration was elected with," Cantor said Saturday. "I do think that there will be a price to pay."
But some Republicans worry that it could be their party paying that price.
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), one of the three Republicans who voted for the legislation, said the GOP risks becoming "the party of Hoover," echoing a warning that Vice President Richard B. Cheney delivered last year during negotiations over the Bush administration's rescue of the auto industry.
After Hoover left office in 1933, amid the economic rubble of the Great Depression, Specter noted, "not until Eisenhower came up decades later did a Republican win the presidency, and he was a war hero."
In the coming weeks, if the stimulus package works as Democrats have described, federal money flowing into state coffers may allow many governors to announce that fewer layoffs are necessary. Construction projects that were delayed could start up again, providing much-needed work for laid-off construction workers. Consumer confidence could rebound, sending people to the stores again.