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Shields and Brooks Mull Stimulus Debate, Obama’s Next Policy Steps

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the tough debate on Capitol Hill over the stimulus bill, the tax trouble that ended Tom Daschle's Cabinet nomination and how President Obama is faring so far.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, Judy Woodruff talks to Shields and Brooks.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, it's good to see both of you. We are getting reports late this afternoon, early this evening that they may have reached a deal on Capitol Hill, the economic stimulus. The Democrats are saying they seem to be moving, David, toward agreement. Why has this been so hard for this popular new president?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Child is father to the man. It started out, I think, in a bad place. Basically, the Obama administration gave a few principles, sent it out to the Congress, and the congressional chairmen basically took it over and created a bill which combined the short-term stimulus with long-term spending programs.

    And the resulting bill, which was huge and sprawling, was something liberals could love, all conservatives hated, and moderates were extremely uneasy about. So what happened this week was you had a group of moderates — 18 to 20, holed up in the Dirksen building, 15 Democrats, 5 Republicans unhappy with the bill, but not wanting to be against it.

    And those centrists were taking stuff out, yesterday, a lot of education bills. That made the liberals unhappy. They wanted that education money back in.

    So it was a tension between the center and the left, basically, to try to find the right size. But the core problem was they created a bill so far left the center really wanted changes in it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you read this, Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    I disagree with David. Ninety percent of what's in the bill coming out of the House was Barack Obama. I mean, it wasn't some leftist plot that was foisted upon them by these barons on Capitol Hill.

    I think there's a couple of things that contribute to where we are on this uncertain terrain. First of all, Judy, nobody I know is absolutely certain about what has to be done. They know we have to increase demand in the economy, but nobody is absolutely sure.

    We've never been here before. We've never been at this place in a globalized economy. Paul Solman last week did a piece about the fact that China was no longer importing waste paper from the United States because China was no longer using boxes to sell goods to the United States. I mean, the whole thing is of a piece.

    The second thing that contributes to it is we're at the end of a conservative era. It's over. And people aren't sure where we go.

    I mean, you see it in the story this week of the SEC, and Bernie Madoff, the failure there, the failure of the Food and Drug Administration. The era of lax government regulations, let the market — and take regulation, and details, and red tape away from business, that's over. And the era of tax cuts is over.

    So I think we're kind of in that uncharted territory. And I think that's what's contributed to it as much as anything.

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