The stimulus passes the Senate as Obama predicts stormy weather.

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The times they are a-changin’: Republicans are comparing themselves to the Taliban while Democrats are putting expedience ahead of extra spending. And the latest politician in trouble for cheating on his taxes is not a Cabinet nominee. These surprises aside, the Change-o-Meter earns points for the stimulus package’s relatively speedy progress toward passage as well as some refreshing rhetoric from the president on the economy and Afghanistan. But it gives back some of its gain for failing to change the Bush administration’s position on a case involving state secrets. All told, the ‘Meter comes in for a respectable 28 points today.

With the support of the two centrist senators from Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Senate version of the stimulus package passed Tuesday afternoon. In order to fulfill Obama’s request that a bill be on his desk before Presidents Day, the Senate and House will have to reconcile the significant differences between their two legislative bundles. And they may just do it: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to postpone recess if the work isn’t done by Monday. We give 15 points for this uncharacteristic expedience.

Meanwhile, a new $1.5 trillion bank bailout that Tim Geithner announced this morning may not be gaining as much attention because of bailout fatigue. But two cautious points are awarded for provisions to insert a little more accountability this go-round. A verdict on this bailout’s success will take a little time, though the market was not immediately pleased with what it saw.

In the rhetoric department, Obama returned Monday night from hawking his stimulus package in downtrodden Elkhart, Ind., to hold a press conference at the White House, where he addressed issues ranging from the credit crisis to Iran to A-Rod’s steroid usage. Returning to his familiar campaign cadences, Obama made no bones about the depths of the mess we’re in.

Obama was candid in response to a question about Afghanistan as well, admitting that the work the United States has yet to do in Afghanistan is too immense to consider setting a withdrawal deadline anytime soon. His response echoed Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke’s declaration over the weekend that the Afghanistan war will be “tougher” than Iraq has been. The administration’s refusal to sugar-coat earns 10 points. (An extra point is given for now having a president that can use Scrabble-worthy words like bellicoseon the fly in a press conference, not to mention his pronunciation of “nuclear.”) 

And elsewhere in the Middle East, in response to Obama’s expressed hope for a “constructive dialogue” with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this morning that his country would welcome talks with the United States based on mutual respect. So, 10 more points for even a minor twitch in the 30-year staring contest with an incredibly volatile nation.

Liberal commentators and lawyers had hoped the Obama administration would change the federal government’s position in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, in which five men who say the United States tortured them abroad are suing the private contractor that arranged the trips. The case was dismissed in federal district court after the Bush administration said that the subject matter of the suit is a state secret; on appeal yesterday, the Obama administration took the same position. That’s a 10-point loss on the ‘Meter.

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