In his first full week in office, Barack Obama spent his time pushing for his stimulus bill and continuing to break from the traditions and policies of his predecessor. Obama signed his first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for people to sue for racial and gender discrimination at work, and he lifted the abortion gag rule, allowing nongovernmental groups overseas to receive U.S. funding even if they support abortion rights. He visited Capitol Hill to meet with House and Senate Republicans and even held a cocktail party for congressional leadership. He's going to make those kinds of drink parties a weekly thing. (The new tone is Cheers!) Obama started the process of reversing the Bush administration's rules on car emissions and fuel-efficiency standards. Obama also granted his first interview to al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based network. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy," he said.
To help you keep up, Slate offers this guide to the issues of the week. Here is where the arguments stand on a few key topics.
The Stimulus Bill
Against: It doesn't stimulate the economy sufficiently. Tax cuts would get the money into people's hands faster so that they could go about spending it. And the infrastructure portion of the bill is larded with funding for favorite Democratic programs, such as the National Endowment of the Arts, neighborhood activist groups, and food stamps. You get only a minimal level of stimulus by funding those things. Your goal should be to create more activity than merely saving a job.
For: Let's not define the entire $900 billion bill by a few tiny measures. The Congressional Budget Office says that 64 percent of the money will be spent in the first 19 months. Obama has pledged to increase that to 75 percent. Let's not confuse the issue here. Even if you don't like extending unemployment benefits and food stamps, you can't argue that those measures don't stimulate economic activity. The infrastructure spending doesn't kick in immediately, but it's necessary to lay the foundation for future growth after the shorter-term stimulative measures have run their course.
Obama's "New Tone"
The president's just playing politics: Sure, he's held a cocktail party and visited Republican leaders on the Hill. But he's just doing that for show. He hasn't accepted a single major Republican idea. Look, even John McCain, to whom Obama has reached out repeatedly and who loves to cause Republicans trouble by working with Democrats, is balking. "I have to tell you, I'm disappointed so far in the administration's lack of consultation or efforts to work with Republicans on the stimulus package," said McCain.
Republicans are just playing politics: The day Obama went to meet with House Republicans, Minority Leader John Boehner had already told them to vote no on the stimulus bill. That's not very open-minded, and it's not very sporting. Plus, Obama leaned on House Democrats to remove provisions from the stimulus bill that Republicans had objected to, like money for fixing the turf on the National Mall and for family planning (though that wasn't really what it was for). And there are going to be almost $300 billion in tax cuts in the bill, most of which Republicans approve of. Bipartisanship means working on items you both agree on. It doesn't mean Democrats have to surrender.
Rush Limbaugh Is the Leader of the Republican Party
He sure is: The party has lost its way, and only Rush speaks the truth. He's not just a bomb thrower. Look at this eminently reasonable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The new president, so well-known for his unflappability, sure seems irritated by Rush. Obama's always mentioning him.
He sure is, alternate version: I couldn't agree more. Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party. He is both the ideological center and spiritual touchstone of all that the party can and forever will be. Any smart Republican would do well to consult Rush before speaking out against the president. Rush is an extremely powerful man. He is also good-looking.
Oh, stop it, he is not: Rush is an entertainer. That's it. The Republican Party just elected Michael Steele, a dynamic African-American, to lead his party. (Forget about the whole scarlet letter thing for a minute.) In the House, Republicans were united in a way they haven't been for ages. Republicans aren't idiots. We know what Obama is up to with the Rush-bashing, and we can get past the cheap trick and sell our ideas to the country on their merits. Plus, is the change-we-can-believe-in president really so rattled that he defines all opposition as coming from the most abrasive member of the opposition? I thought it was George Bush who was always trying to frighten people.