If the oath-of-office flub was the first gaffe of the Obama years, then the second occurred four days later on Jan. 24. Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos to defend the $200 million in funding for family planning that Democrats had put in their economic stimulus bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to make the case that contraception would stimulate the economy. The funds, she said, would "reduce [the] cost" to states for children's health care and education.
Republicans pounced on the babies-are-a-costly-problem rhetoric as an example of their main problem with the bill: In the guise of "stimulus," the bill would merely advance the liberal social agenda, grow the government, and reward liberal interest groups-all without doing much to help the economy.
The next day, Obama called Henry Waxman, the Democratic chair of the committee that inserted the family-planning provision in the bill, and told him to strip it out. By Jan. 26, the Democrats had removed the spending provision-a move that angered some on the left. Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, wrote, "I'm stunned," calling Obama's request "a betrayal of millions of low-income women."
If Obama's call was meant to bring Republicans on board, it failed. The $800-billion-plus bill still included millions for arts funding, global warming research, anti-smoking programs, and other non-stimulus spending-"a wish list of longstanding liberal Democrat priorities that have little do with putting our economy back on its feet," according to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. The bill was also rooted in flawed thinking, conservatives said, specifically the idea that government spending causes the economy to grow. Republicans instead proposed a bill to cut tax rates in the lowest income brackets and for small businesses; the House overwhelmingly voted down the GOP alternative.
The Democrats' stimulus bill passed the House Jan. 28 with all 177 Republicans (along with 11 Democrats) voting against it. The Senate version was expected to include more tax relief and less spending in an effort to bring Republicans on board. If not, the bill would become what President Obama seemed to be trying to avoid: an effort that Democrats won't be able to call a bipartisan failure if it doesn't help the economy.
-with reporting by Emily Belz