The New York Times reports that even as President Obama signs the economic stimulus bill into law today, he and his aids are indicating that the President has not ruled out the need for continued public spending to stimulate economic recovery:
The president said he would not pretend "that today marks the end of our economic problems."
"Nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around," Mr. Obama said at the signing ceremony in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "But today does mark the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the way of layoffs."
Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs told reporters on the way to the stimulus bill signing, "I think the president is going to do what's necessary to grow this economy." The Times reports that he then added, "[While] there are no particular plans at this point for a second stimulus package, I wouldn't foreclose it."
This rhetorical shift suggests that Obama recognizes that economic recovery will be a long process that will require sustained action and last deep into his first term. The President seems to be beginning to prepare the public for that reality as well.
Obama, an obviously intelligent man himself who takes counsel from some of the world's brightest economists, surely knows that the less than $800 billion stimulus package he enacted today will not go the full measure in meeting the $2.9 trillion output gap that will plague our economy over the next three years.
However, for much of the debate surrounding the recovery bill, Obama hedged his comments about the necessity for possible further fiscal stimulus and public investment. It seems that with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act now signed and President Obama's first major public investments underway, this may all be changing.
It seems that Obama has reshuffled priorities as a result of the debate over the first stimulus. After watching the GOP close ranks and repudiate his offer to join in a bipartisan approach to economic recovery, perhaps the President has realized that dealing with the recession might not be the best or safest political issue with which to build a new bipartisan tone inside the beltway.
That, in my opinion, is welcome news. Instead of working with the dual objectives of recovery AND bipartisanship, Obama can jettison the second goal and focus singularly on the urgent necessity of economic revitalization. Now our President has learned that even when he provides political cover for Republicans to sign on to the bill, waters down the legislation with dubiously effective tax cuts (overt capitulations to Republican demands), and makes personal appeals to GOP lawmakers, the Republican party will dogmatically cling to outdated and idiotic ideological commitments to small government and the infallibility of free markets.
Instead, it is better for Obama to spend his political capital on more worthwhile pursuits--advancing the need for continued public investment to build a prosperous 21st century economy, establishing a new progressive economic model, and working to address home foreclosures and other middle class concerns. For now, Obama should table the job of reviving civil politics -- an effort that would require willing partners on the GOP side -- and instead focus on the necessities of economic recovery and the re-establishment of sensible, forward looking governance.