What Obama should have done in 2009

2. If the Congress could be persuaded to pass health care reform, it also could have passed a second stimulus.

I’ve always found the argument that there was no political will for a second stimulus, or even a larger first stimulus, to be particularly lacking. It’s true that Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter shrunk the first stimulus as a price for moving it through the Senate, prior to Al Franken’s arrival as the 60th Democratic vote in that chamber.

But I’m not certain that $787 billion was a magic number for them. I suspect that they didn’t want the political heat for killing the bill outright, especially at a time when the president had 60 percent approval ratings and had recently carried their states by double digits. My guess is they just needed the bill to be smaller than the opening bid, whatever that opening bid might have been, to give them some cover with their bases at home.

I’m more certain that a second, sizeable stimulus could have been passed once Democrats had their filibuster-proof majority. Why? Because they were able to pass health care reform. From July of 2009 through the end of that year, only a handful of polls ever found the bill with even a plurality support. By November it had become widely unpopular, with people routinely disapproving by double-digit margins.

And yet it passed. It was ugly, and took a lot of arm-twisting, but it passed.