Obama's 'Moment of Truth' on the Stimulus Plan

The really hard bargaining will come after the Senate votes.

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Strategists for President Obama say things aren't as bad as they might seem, judging from negative media coverage, for passage of economic stimulus legislation. Sure, many senators are taking potshots at the House-passed $819 billion version of the bill, largely because the critics say it has too much spending and not enough tax cuts. But Obama strategists say chances are still excellent that a big stimulus bill will clear Congress in the next few weeks. "The Republicans cannot just obstruct," says an Obama adviser. "This is too important an issue. And there is a coalition of the center in the Senate—people who want to pass a stimulus package but who simply think this one [the House bill] is overstuffed in the wrong way."

The most likely outcome, according to legislative strategists for the White House, is that the Senate will pass its own version of the bill, and then the real bargaining will begin when both chambers try to reconcile their differing approaches. That's when Obama will have to weigh in and specify his bottom line on one issue after another. "That will be the real moment of truth," says Bill Galston, a political scientist and former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton. "The White House is going to have to step in and make choices."

Up to now, Obama has largely kept out of the moment-to-moment negotiations, encouraging the House and Senate to work out the details themselves. But in the endgame, Obama will have to put his "fingerprints" on the final measure, insiders from both parties say. And even though it won't be easy coordinating between the House and Senate, between Democrats and Republicans, and among Democrats themselves, many insiders predict that a massive stimulus bill will pass this month.