If I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Debate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Is Joe Biden finished? MORE was elected president back in November. I’m also sure that a little more than two weeks ago, President-elect Obama became President Obama (this, by the way, I know since I saw him being sworn in — twice, in fact, thanks to Justice Roberts).

The reason why I’m puzzled is that as I watch the political debate unfold over the stimulus package, I sometimes think that Republicans didn’t get the memo that Obama won and a new era of post-partisan politics had begun. But then I realized they got a very different memo — and it went something like this …

Dear fellow Republican,

We lost both chambers (by even bigger margins) and the White House (jeez, we got shellacked), and I know some of you worry about us becoming a regional party (to be honest, do we really care what people from the Northeast, Midwest, or West think of us anyway?), but we should all rejoice in this one fact. We still have 41 senators — which means President Obama and Senate Democrats don’t have the 60 votes to stop a filibuster, which also means we have the power to obstruct, delay, infuriate and complicate almost every piece of legislation from here on out.

In other words, we’re in charge!

Signed,

Happy Republican Leaders


Now, in the almost Seinfeldesque legislative world we call the U.S. Senate, even if you are the majority party, if you don’t have 60 votes, you have as about much chance of getting big legislation passed as Dick Cheney has of going two days without warning of a mushroom cloud on the horizon. (As a quick aside, don’t you get the feeling that Mr. Sunshine needs a vacation? I wonder if there is anywhere in Cuba we could send him to, but I digress.)

Now, I would have less of an issue with this if these Republican senators’ idea for modifying the stimulus plan focused on cutting real waste, and didn’t revolve around cutting actual spending just for the sake of cutting spending to the tune of $100 billion. My only point is — will someone please remind them that this is a stimulus bill we’re debating?

Case in point: Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) has publicly stated he wants to cut funding for school construction from the stimulus package. Now, I’m not sure when the last time Sen. Martinez visited a public school was, but if he or any other senator thinks that this isn’t an area of spending that would have a stimulating effect on our economy, well, I would suggest more time in … school.

How is this stimulus? you might ask. Well, aside from the construction and suppliers’ jobs that would be created, not to mention all of the other business that would benefit from these construction and supplier jobs, it would create a better learning environment for our children, help keep or attract better teachers, and in the end, maybe, just maybe, help create an environment to produce the next Steve Jobs. Sounds like a good focus for the stimulus to me, but to Senate Republicans like Mel Martinez, this is what they call wasteful “pork.”

Now, I always find it ironic when Democrats get fiscal lessons on wasteful pork-barrel spending from the party that blew the largest projected budgetary surplus in U.S. history in less than six years under President Bush, but I find it a sign of the coming apocalypse when I hear Karl Rove suggest, as he did on Fox News yesterday, that Democrats are practicing flawed economic policy. Wow — how is that for a stretch?

But, you see, there’s the rub. This isn’t about good policy for these Republicans, no matter all the lofty talk — it’s about smart Republican politics and smart Republican messaging. It’s about rebuilding a Republican brand the only way they see fit — go on the attack, tear down the other side and at the end of the day you look pretty tall when you are standing on the other side’s neck.

As terribly shortsighted as this may be, especially when the country faces an economic crisis, Republicans are utilizing the only power they have left. Contrary to the hopes of President Obama, Senate Republicans are not — and will not — be inclined to play this bipartisan game for one simple reason — because until Democrats reach 60 votes in the Senate, the only power Senate Republicans have to make news, the only power the Republican Party has to shape the national agenda, the only power it has to stay relevant is the fact that by having enough votes in the Senate to threaten a filibuster, it has enough votes to shape legislation to its ideological and partisan ends.

And so, as amazing as Election Day was, and with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, it is Senate Republicans who — at least for now — are reveling in the power they have to affect the shape of the stimulus package. And it raises the prospect that as the legislative agenda moves forward, the tactics and approach the Obama administration takes will have to change dramatically, to one that is less about pushing bipartisanship and working with Republicans across the board, and more about confronting Republicans and rallying the American people to push their members of Congress — specifically key Republicans — to support the president’s agenda.