Two hundred and twenty-one years ago, the writer of Federalist Paper No. 62—historians still argue whether it was Hamilton or Madison—warned Americans of the propensity of the House "to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions." The House's passing of the $819 billion stimulus bill this week was all that: impulsive, sudden, violent, intemperate, and pernicious.
And the current speaker of the House has proved herself a "factious" leader, meaning the leader of a faction—in this case a liberal-progressive faction that was fed up with eight years of being "shut out" by the Bush administration and looking for a little payback. Last week, she reminded Republicans repeatedly that "we won, we wrote this bill," in case they had forgotten.
The House stimulus bill attempts to get the economy moving through fiscal measures to stem the recession (which may or may not be a good idea), and after that, it's payback time for the speaker. Every Democratic pet project—"reforms that never garnered sufficient votes in ordinary times," David Sanger wrote in yesterday's New York Times —is now in that stimulus package. Former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin, in her testimony before the House Budget Committee, advised splitting the package in two: a large, temporary set of antirecession measures, and separate legislation for long-term spending and investments for future growth that should fall under a pay-as-you-go framework. Strip out all the spending programs, she seemed to be saying, and let's take a closer look at which ones are worthwhile (and some, such as computerizing medical records, are—as I wrote last week in this space). Rivlin is a respected voice in the Democratic Party; the fact that even she is telling Democrats to hold their horses means there isn't unanimous support among Democrats for a quick vote in the Senate. Cooler heads than those in the House are starting to step forward, on both sides of the aisle.
Sure enough, by Sunday, Democrat senators began signaling they'd be willing to compromise on the House version of the bill. The White House reportedly has begun talking to lawmakers about holding a "fiscal responsibility summit" soon. Imagine that!
But the biggest sign that the Democrats have a problem with the House stimulus bill did not come from economists, reporters, and former budget directors. It's from this weekend's opening skit on Saturday Night Live (below), which made fun of President Obama's attempts to sell the House version of the stimulus package to the American people. He couldn't sell it on Saturday Night, and I don't think he's going to sell it on Monday morning, either.
Once Saturday Night Live gets involved, it's over. Everyone's laughing.