I have one last thought on the Porkulus events from last week. This weekend, Mitch and I took a lot of calls on the passage of Porkulus, with many demanding some retribution for Senators Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins. Usually, both Mitch and I advise against revenge on defector votes. We both agree that a big-tent party has to have room for some disagreement, and the only way to get to a majority again in Congress is to build a large enough coalition to take charge. Purity drives lower our numbers and our ability to influence policy.
This, however, is a different matter. First, the Republicans need to re-establish credibility as the party of fiscal responsibility, and supporting Porkulus is antithetical to that effort. No matter how big a tent the Republicans need to pitch, they still need to stand for core values — and among them should be fiscal responsibility and smaller government for greater individual liberty. Porkulus fails on both counts, which is why the House GOP maintained a solid wall of opposition to it. Specter, Snowe, and Collins apparently don’t share those values.
But in this case, the betrayal goes beyond core values. Despite Barack Obama’s demagoguery earlier in the week, many Republicans wanted a big stimulus package to come out of Congress as quickly as possible. Given the chance, Republican partnership would have produced a bill with less long-term spending, more short-term spending, better tax cuts, and a huge reduction in the health-care bureaucracy that comprised almost half of Porkulus. Such a bill would have easily received a hundred Republican votes or more in the House and may have passed on acclamation in the Senate, and it would have sent a message of unity in a time of economic crisis.
In order to get that, Republicans had to shut down Porkulus. It would have forced Democrats to negotiate with Republicans and get the better bill to Obama’s desk. All we needed was Republicans to stand firm in the service of their fellow Republicans and to defy Nancy Pelosi’s triumphalism. The House did its job, as did most of the Republicans in the Senate, even while saying that they would support a real stimulus package. Instead, Specter, Collins, and Snowe essentially stabbed their colleagues in the back — while Specter whined about the lack of debate on the bill, after he voted for cloture and an end to debate.
That was the real betrayal.
What can the Republicans do to the Porkulus 3? Not much, really. The GOP needs them to offer an illusory chance at filibustering legislation, although their failure to filibuster something as bad as Porkulus more or less exposes that as an empty threat. Republicans need to find credible primary opponents for these three, even if it means losing the seats, because after Porkulus it appears they’re already lost.