Analysis: Selling the Hail Mary Stimulus Package

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Candidate Obama entered an altered state when he became the Commander in Chief on January 20.

Since then, President Obama has been playing the role of bipartisan salesman in chief as he has lobbied night and day to sell his economic stimulus plan. He has staked his first 100 days in office on the stimulus bill, and he will make the sale.

But the question remains whether the package will arrest the economic tailspin.

Last night, during his first prime time press conference, Mr. Obama aimed his stimulus rhetoric at his predecessor and Congress.

He told the American people, "I can't afford to see Congress play the usual political games. What we have to do right now is deliver for the American people. So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is: Send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs."

And he warned, "If you delay acting on an economy of this severity, then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of."

According to a recent Gallup poll, 67 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's efforts to restart the economy, and 52 percent support the economic stimulus. Democrats in the House and Senate have divergent views on a stimulus plan, and the Republicans have offered only minimal support in the Senate.

In some respects Mr. Obama has underestimated how much ability he would have during his brief honeymoon period to change the way Washington works. But he has summoned the tenacity and focus from the campaign that brought him to the White House in stumping for the stimulus package across the country, including today in Ft Myers, Florida.

The Senate passed its $838 billion stimulus package today, and now the House and Senate will move into negotiations to get the bill to the president's desk. It's highly likely the bill will get passed this month. Yet the big unanswered question is whether the $800 billion-plus bill will actually stem the economic slide.

Mr. Obama admits that any stimulus plan will have flaws.

"Now, despite all of this, the plan's not perfect. No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hoped, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis, as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans," he said during the prime time press conference.

In other words, the plan may by flawed, but having no plan is untenable. Vice President Joe Biden recently remarked regarding the stimulus plan that there was a "30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong."

During his press conference last night, Mr. Obama responded to a question about Biden's remark by saying, "I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to. Not surprisingly."

Mr. Obama's response got a laugh from the assembled reporters, but it's unlikely that Biden's 30-percent failure estimate came out of thin air, and it probably can't be categorized nothing more than a Biden goof. Bottom line, as Mr. Obama likes to say, is that no one really knows whether the stimulus plan in the works will fix the problems.

Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has called the most recent plans "way inadequate." The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, gathered signatures from 300 libertarian-leaning economists against a stimulus plan, countering the Obama administration's own cadre of top flight economists who support a stimulus plan.

A stimulus plan that quickly leads the economy out of the wilderness would be akin to Captain Sullenberger and crew successfully ditching their airplane in the Hudson River. Sullenberger described how he managed to bring 155 passengers to safety as follows: "...for 42 years, I had made small, regular deposits of education, training and experience. And the experience balance was sufficient that, on Jan. 15, I could make a sudden, large withdrawal."

Mr. Obama has assembled a team with deep education, training and experience, but that doesn't change the fact that the stimulus package may not be enough for a soft landing.

Daniel Farber is the editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com.
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