This is not going to be a regular month in Washington, D.C. as the 111th Congress convenes tomorrow and a new President is sworn into office on January 20. So buckle up!
The biggest item on the agenda right now is what to do about the economy.
Democrats and President Elect Barack Obama have been talking for weeks about putting together a stimulus (or economic recovery) bill that can be signed into law by Obama after he takes the oath of office on the 20th.
But on Sunday, suddenly all that talk went away, and the goalposts were moved into February, as now Obama aides and top Democrats say the goal is to approve a plan by the time Congress breaks for President’s Day.
So far, there has been a lot of talk about what should be part of an economic recovery bill, but not many details.
Democrats have been treading water for weeks on the issue, talking in generalities about what they want in the plan, but never getting down to brass tacks and the nitty gritty details.
I don’t really expect that to change much as Obama meets with Congressional leaders today, but it still begs the question as to when we will get the details. Maybe next week? Later? I would bet there will be a lot of unknowns about what’s next.
One idea that’s cropped up is to send money to the states for transportation projects, but let them decide what the money should be spent on, and not have Congress dictate it with specific road and bridge plans.
In other words, that would make it look less like pork barrel spending if the specific projects aren’t listed there.
But we all know it won’t be that easy. This bill will be a target for legislative extras, because it “must pass” the Congress quickly.
But history tells us that Presidents don’t always get what they want. Just go back 16 years ago to the first months of Bill Clinton’s time in office.
He asked Congress for about $16 billion in stimulus spending, but the bill was beset by concerns over pork barrel projects (parking garages, swimming pools, bike trails, etc) and was ultimately derailed in the Senate by a GOP filibuster.
Republicans have been making a lot of noise over the size of this stimulus plan. It is a first legislative showdown for Obama that should not be rushed into, because a legislative defeat now could cause troubles later.