Stimulating Change

The GOP may not be onboard, but legislation is still moving in Washington.

House Republicans may have unanimously rejected Obama’s stimulus bill, but the legislation passed anyway, thanks to an ample helping of Democrats in the House. So while the narrative yesterday was that Obama’s hopes of bipartisan collusion in D.C. had fallen flat—for a measly five-point gain on our scale—the fact remains that the bill is moving rapidly toward passage. That, along with the president’s first bill signing and signs of goodwill from Russia, amounts to a 45 on the Change-o-Meter.

While the stimulus bill is now headed to the Senate, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act today, which makes it easier to sue one’s employer for salary discrimination. As the New York Times notes, the Bush White House opposed this bill, and its quick passage is certainly due to a party change in the White House. At the same time, passage of the law was no more bipartisan than the stimulus vote. Only three Republicans voted for this year’s House version of the bill, which passed on Jan. 9, while five Republicans got onboard last week in the Senate.

Scoring a situation like this comes down to the age-old difference between “what” and “how.” Much of Obama’s rhetoric over the past two years has focused on repairing the tone and mechanics of Washington, and in that respect, there’s very little sign that anything is changing yet on Capitol Hill. But as reader Dmitri Tymoczko wrote yesterday, “By defining ‘change’ as ‘doing things that both Republicans and Democrats agree to’ you are making it so that Republicans hold a veto power over Barack [Obama]’s ability to bring ‘changes.’ ” Point taken, Dmitri. While bipartisanship will remain part of the narrative, is it not the sole lens by which one can evaluate change. The combination of the fair-pay act and a major step in stimulus legislation is good enough for 40 points.

To close out the day, Russia has reportedly delayed the placement of missiles in the Baltic Sea while it awaits signs from Washington on a U.S. plan to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe. “Analysts interpreted the move as a good will gesture toward new U.S. President Barack Obama,” Reuters notes, though the Kremlin has not confirmed this news. While it’s good for an extra five points, the situation remains delicate; if the United States backs off from its plans for the shield, the move could quickly sour relations with allies in Eastern Europe.