Indeed, the sudden unanimous opposition of House Republicans to this bill mainly accomplishes one thing, which is to remind everyone of how gutlessly the Republican leadership acquiesced to whatever the Bush administration wanted and how they only managed to discover some interest in resisting massive expenditures when someone from the other party is in the White House. This highlights the past fecklessness and opportunism of the current Republican leadership. Given the current mood in the country, the House GOP in ‘10 will probably be received in the country about as well as the House GOP was received during the ‘98 midterms. The lesson to draw from the Democrats’ defeat in 2002 is not that cooperation with the White House loses the opposition party seats in the next elections, but that challenging a very popular President on a major piece of legislation (especially when the legislation is also popular) usually ends up costing the opposition party seats.
Nate Silver echoes this, and tries to get to the heart of what's going on here:
But surely the phrase "ZERO Republicans voted for the Recovery Package" is more likely to escape Democratic lips on the campaign trail in 2010 than Republican ones. If the stimulus bill proves to be unpopular -- and it might well -- a House Republican can tout the fact that he voted against the package. But with the unanimous vote -- as well as the near-unanimity on measures like the Ledbetter Act and Digital TV -- the Republicans remove the emphasis from their individual judgment to that of their party. It is not clear why they would want this: the Republican brand, even under the best of circumstances, is not likely to be significantly rehabilitated by 2010, especially when the Republicans do not have agenda-setting powers.
... the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
And here's David Weigel, who says there is strategy at work here:
The Republican strategy here is incredibly bold. The party’s betting against Obama’s current popularity and against the chance of an economic recovery by 2010 (or 2012), having done very little work convincing Americans that the stimulus tax rebates amount to “welfare” (one popular argument) or that, after eight years of deficit spending, voters should worry about the cost of this bill. I’m skeptical about the political oomph of attacking “wasteful spending,” even though (in a growing economy, at least) it makes more sense than endless tax cuts. But maybe the strategy will pay off. Or maybe putting 177 Republicans on record against tax cuts will come back to hurt them. We’ll find out.
I for one think the effects of this stand will neither be as good as Republicans hope, nor as bad as Silver and Larison think. However, I do consider this a golden opportunity for Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration to do as they please, as they can now plausibly say "See, we try to reach out to them in the spirit of bipartisanship, and this is what they do."