The House earlier tonight passed a relatively intact version of President Obama's $819 billion stimulus bill. The vote was 244-188 with 12 Democrats opposing the bill and no Republicans – zero – voting in favor.
At the end of the day, that's a legislative victory. But the bill's passage has been relatively assured for some time (maybe since November, when Democrats… you know… took commanding majorities in both houses of Congress) and Obama has spent the last several weeks trying specifically to win Republican support for the measure. He went to Capitol Hill to address the Republican caucus yesterday.
Tonight it's a cocktail party with 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans, as CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports. Very bipartisan.
Though not directly related to the stimulus bill, Mr. Obama also met with a virtual who's who of conservative talking heads including William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, George Will, Larry Kudlow, and Paul Gigot; He later met with a group of liberal pundits as well.
So what gives? Republicans say that for all the overtures of bipartisanship the Democrats simply didn't put forth an acceptable bill. Just Google "Boehner stimulus" to read the familiar Republican complaints: Too much spending, not enough tax cuts, bad for business.
As Washington Monthly's Steve Benen points out, the GOP had little to gain politically from supporting the bill. If the stimulus succeeds, Obama and the Democrats will get the credit. If it fails, Republicans will have "I told you so" bragging rights for defending their anti-spending conservative principles. (It's somewhat less clear how they will respond to criticism from out-of-work constituents.)
Another view: Obama's push for bipartisan support is aimed squarely at GOP voters, not GOP lawmakers.
Mr. Obama put out a statement after the vote praising the House for passing the bill. The only mention of the party divide was this age-old paean to bipartisan harmony: "I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way."
The complete statement is below:
"Last year, America lost 2.6 million jobs. On Monday alone, we learned that some of our biggest employers plan to cut another 55,000. This is a wakeup call to Washington that the American people need us to act and act immediately.
That is why I am grateful to the House of Representatives for moving the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan forward today. There are many numbers in this plan. It will double our capacity to generate renewable energy. It will lower the cost of health care by billions and improve its quality. It will modernize thousands of classrooms and send more kids to college. And it will put billions of dollars in immediate tax relief into the pockets of working families.
But out of all these numbers, there is one that matters most to me: this recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years.
I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington. Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the website recovery.gov and see how and where their money is being spent.
The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do."