The Stimulus And Obama's Rough Week

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Scott Simon continues the conversation about the stimulus package, and the tax problems of some of President Obama's Cabinet nominees, with NPR political analyst Juan Williams.


We're back now with NPR's Juan Williams. Juan, assuming - as David indicated - this bill will pass the Senate, what about the House?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, what you're talking about, of course, is a bill that has passed the House but without any Republican support, Scott. So what you're going to do is have a conference, and the conference is likely to be very difficult, and likely difficult because of opposition from Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, as well as Jim Clyburn, one of her top aides, have said they don't like what's been going on in the Senate. They think that this bill needs to have a major shock of spending in order to revive this American economy. And so for example, in the Senate, you have already a patch, as they call it, an alternative minimum tax cut that's worth about $70 billion intended to help middle-class families. The House says they want that. They don't want it cut out - added, I'm sorry, they don't want it added in. But they have other plans, including the kind of preschool programs, construction programs that we heard the Senate already has cut out.

SIMON: Do you see this division lasting on other issues? Have this group of moderate Republicans suddenly become very strategically important in other legislation, too?

WILLIAMS: Well, you got to remember that going forward, you're going to have to deal with major entitlement issues for President Obama. That's his agenda going forward. He's not going to be able to do it without this kind of bipartisan support he once dreamed of. Remember, he said he wanted 80 votes. That's a long way from what we are hearing now. You just heard John McCain say you got two or three Republicans - that's about it. They were thinking last night of, if the vote had taken place, flying Ted Kennedy up from Florida on sort of an emergency basis. That's how thin this margin is. On the other hand, the fact that it did get through the Senate, or looks like it's going to get through the Senate, will be a major victory for this young president.

SIMON: Shifting just a little, of course, to the president's nominees - Tom Daschle for HHS secretary, Nancy Killefer for chief Performance officer, forced to withdraw because of their failure to pay taxes. And there was also some criticism of Mr. Daschle's nomination, not just over the tax issue but for the millions he made as a Washington consultant for a law firm, and in fact, Mr. Daschle doesn't even have a law degree. Has this damaged President Obama's popularity in any lasting way, or his ability to make the argument that we're going to clean up this town?

WILLIAMS: Not according to the polls. I saw a USA Today poll just yesterday - indicated that most Americans were still strongly with President Obama, 70 percent favorability ratings. And when asked specifically about this, people viewed it as accord - ordinary sort of missteps and first days of a new administration. But it does raise, I think, some ire, particularly on the left, because people remember that he ran on this mantra of change and especially kind of change in a way business is done in Washington. And so here he is saying, you know what? I'm putting in new ethics rules, but then offering waivers to allow people to come in to government who have been lobbyists, and then, of course, palling around and relying so heavily on Tom Daschle, only to discover Daschle is not paying taxes, and that reminds everybody what happened with Tim Geithner, now the Treasury secretary. It's been a rough period here for President Obama.

SIMON: Yeah. And at the same time, though, he was obviously able - or might be - at the prospect of getting the stimulus bill passed. What do you see as the Republican argument that seems to be forming? Is it going to be over that issue - of course, Democrats don't mind higher taxes, they don't pay them, I think...

WILLIAMS: (Laughing) Yeah, that's right.

SIMON: Eric Cantor said that.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, I think it was DeMint who said, you know, that no wonder they don't mind increasing our taxes because they don't have to pay them, but - or Limousine Liberals. That kind of argument about the pork has really taken hold in the American mind, and I think President Obama and his allies have not done enough to fight it.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Juan Williams.

Mr. WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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