New President’s Economic Plan Faces Numerous Congressional Hurdles

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein joined Margaret Warner on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer to discuss President-elect Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan and how it may face significant resistance in Congress.

JIM LEHRER, HOST: And now the congressional obstacles — real and imagined — awaiting President-elect Obama and his economic plans. Margaret Warner has that part of the story.

MARGARET WARNER: And for that, I’m joined by two long-time watchers of Congress: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution; and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. They co-authored the book “The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.”

So, welcome, gentlemen, once again.

Tom, what are the prospects or how hard will it be for President-elect Obama and Speaker Pelosi to get this done with the scope and the timing they’re talking about?

THOMAS MANN: Ironically, Margaret, the political obstacles to getting it done are not as daunting as the substantive ones. This is a massive bill. To try to lay out a detailed plan to spend $400 billion to $500 billion within a two-year period…

MARGARET WARNER: Per year, perhaps.

THOMAS MANN: Perhaps. But it really is a total — if it’s $800 billion overall, $500 billion in spending, maybe $300 billion in tax cuts, you know, that’s a lot of money. It’s not easy to accomplish.

So that while, yes, there’s controversy about the size of this, in some respects over the composition, I’d say the biggest obstacle is figuring out a responsible way in which you can write law that gets dollars spent quickly in ways that are not utterly irresponsible. That’s the biggest challenge.

MARGARET WARNER: But there are political hurdles here, are there not, too?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Yes, I wouldn’t be as sanguine about the political process, either.

You know, this is not the New Deal, when Franklin Roosevelt could come in and, with swollen majorities, sweep things through that were basically written in the White House or the Great Society with Lyndon Johnson. The political process, in many ways, is more dysfunctional.

Tom is right that the substance is tricky, but you’ve got to get this done with Republican buy-in. Without that Republican buy-in, especially in the Senate with that 60-vote hurdle and no guarantee you’ll get all your Democrats together, it’s not going to happen.

And you’ve got to get it accomplished through both houses in different forms. They had hoped originally to do this so that, when he got back from the inaugural parade on January 20th, he could go to the Oval Office and sign it. Now they’ve pushed it back to Presidents’ Day.

As you could see from Speaker Pelosi, the threat to her colleagues — no recess until we’ve gotten this done — is a sign of how tricky this is going to be.

And, you know, Bill Clinton had a much smaller package, the same number of members of Congress in 1993, same number of Democrats, and it took him seven months. This is going to be easier, but not easy.

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