Even as the media continues to cast the stimulus saga as one of mounting pressure on President Barack Obama to deliver a bill that's become mired in partisan bickering, public opinion remains squarely behind the President's effort. As Obama embarks today on a mini-campaign to sell the stimulus, the numbers indicate that he may be preaching to the converted. Jake Tapper of ABC News provides the essential rundown:
Sixty-seven percent of the American people approve of how President Obama's handling his efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, as opposed to 48% for Democrats in Congress and 31% for congressional Republicans.
In addition, the disapproval rating for Congressional Republicans remains a "staggeringly high" 58%. And the public continues to view the package as a matter of paramount concern. 51% of those polled consider the plan's passage to be "critically important," with "Only 16% say it is 'not that important.'"
What remains obscured by these numbers, however, is whether or not public sentiment lines up behind the various compromises wrought and cuts made by the coterie of "moderate" Senators. Here, the press has done a poor job elucidating what is precisely at stake. Senators Ben Nelson and Susan Collins have been allowed to skate by and issue fundamental falsehoods about what they have done to the bill. In a press release, the two Senators claim to have "funded education," and have ensured that the bill will contain "robust spending on infrastructure to create jobs, $87 billion in assistance for states, and assistance to schools, especially for special education and Pell grants." Yglesias begs to differ:
Would you ever in a million years have guessed from this rhetoric that the primary change Collins and Nelson made was to implement big reductions in aid to states and, especially, in funding for education? I think not. In their rhetoric, Collins and Nelson preserved vital education funding and state assistance while eliminating various metaphorical animal products. Meanwhile, actual changes Collins and Nelson made include:
* Elimination of $25 billion in flexible funding for state governments.
* Cut $7.5 billion in funding for "state incentive grants" to help states make progress toward NCLB goals.
* Eliminated $19.5 billion in construction aid for schools and colleges.
* Reduced new aid for the Head Start early childhood program by $1 billion.
Nowhere in their statement do Nelson and Collins make any effort to justify these decisions. Indeed, they don't even seem prepared to admit that they made these decisions.
And no one is holding Collins or Nelson to account, either. Nevertheless, the stage for these compromises -- and the attendant concerns that have since issued forth from economists like Paul Krugman, who believe that damage is being done to the bill's efficacy -- was set by President Obama himself, who sought out bipartisan input and support at the expense of his negotiating position. As Ryan Grim notes, Obama's "stimulus spending is one leg of a three-part approach" to stabilizing the economy, and if the stimulus bill shows any degree of efficacy, the President may elect to take a second pass. Whether the public will stand behind a rerun of this grueling period in the same buoying numbers is anybody's guess.