For a “lame duck” politician who’s supposed to be licking his wounds after the Democratic Party’s steep midterm losses, President Obama these days probably doesn’t mind scanning the headlines each morning. Instead of confirming the slow-motion demise so many in the pundit class had mapped out for him, the headlines paint a picture of a president, and a country, in many ways on the rebound:
That’s probably more good news for Obama in one month than he had in the previous three combined.
And that selection of headlines doesn’t cover news of the most recent smooth and efficient enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the announcement of Obama’s executive action to deal with the languishing issue of immigration, his high-profile endorsement of net neutrality, or the United States’ landmark agreement with China to confront climate change.
As for Obama’s approval rating, it has remained steady in recent months, just as it has for virtually all of 2014. But aren’t lame ducks supposed to tumble after tough midterm defeats, the way President George W. Bush did right after the 2006 votes?
Meanwhile, the assumption that Republicans had boxed Obama in politically via their midterm momentum and would be able to bully him around (impeachment! a government shutdown!) hasn’t yet come to fruition. To date, their main response to the immigration executive order that Obama issued has been for Republicans to cast a symbolic vote of disapproval (i.e., Obama called their bluff).
Already the bloom seems to be coming off the GOP’s win. “According to the survey, 50 percent of Americans believe the GOP taking control of the House and the Senate next year will be bad for America,” CNN reported this week.
None of this is to say that Obama’s surging or that paramount hurdles don’t remain on the horizon. But some recent developments do undercut a widely held consensus in the Beltway press that Obama’s presidency effectively ended with the midterms and that his tenure might be viewed as a failed one.
Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, “Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency.” Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had “somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him,” the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless “bystander” who’s “turning into George W. Bush.”) And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, “President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck.”
But as the facts on the ground now change, many in the press seem reluctant to drop its preferred script and adjust to the headlines that suggest Obama’s second term is not shaping up to be the wreck so many pundits hinted it would be.
It’s worth noting that during Bush’s failed second term, which ended with his approval rating hovering around 20 percent, the same Beltway press did the opposite. Back then the press appeared overly anxious to proclaim a Bush comeback underway. Unlike Obama who’s actually rebounding, the D.C. press often touted Bush’s comeback, even though one never materialized.
At the time of the 2006 midterm elections, NBC’s Chuck Todd predicted that “if Democrats get control of Congress, President Bush’s approval rating will be over 50 percent by the Fourth of July next year.” Democrats did win the House and the Senate in 2006, but Todd’s predication was off — by 20 points. Bush was floundering with a 30 percent approval rating on Independence Day, 2007.
Todd was hardly alone. Earlier in 2005, Time got a quick jump on the Bush-is-back competition, announcing that the president had “found his voice” and that relieved White House aides “were smiling again” after a turbulent 2005. That year, according to the Gallup numbers, Bush’s approval rating remained submerged, falling as low as 31 percent. When it briefly climbed to 40 percent, the Baltimore Sun quickly asked, “Is Bush The New Comeback Kid?”
Even when Bush’s approval rating trended down again after the Republicans’ 2006 midterm wipeout, pundits were back on the hunt for the elusive comeback. In early 2007, Washington Post columnist David Broder, the dean of the Beltway press corps, typed up the White House spin and claimed, “It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don’t be astonished if that is the case.” Broder was sure, “Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.” Thirteen months later, Broder finally conceded the Bush comeback hadn’t materialized. (In fact, the opposite had unfolded.)
The media’s “comeback” double standard seems to reflect the misguided Beltway consensus that America’s a center-right country, so of course it was only a matter of time before Bush regained his footing (he didn’t) and that Obama would likely fade away during his second term (he hasn’t).
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 4, 2014
Republican and Democratic leaders don’t often see eye to eye on taxes.
But surprisingly, corporate tax reform looks like one area where there might actually be some potential for bipartisan action in Washington. This should be good news, since our corporate tax system is clearly hopelessly broken.
Here’s a stark indicator of just how broken: Last year, 29 of the 100 highest-paid CEOs made more in personal compensation than their companies paid in federal income taxes. That’s according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government.
Yes, it’s gotten that easy for large corporations to avoid the taxman.
This is true even for the country’s wealthiest companies. Citigroup, Halliburton, Boeing, Ford, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Verizon, and General Motors all made more than $1 billion in U.S. profits last year, but still paid their CEOs more than they paid Uncle Sam. In fact, most of them got massive tax refunds.
How is this possible?
While big businesses moan about the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent, most of them pay nowhere near that. Between 2008 and 2012, the average large corporation paid an effective rate of less than 20 percent.
Hiding profits in tax havens is one of the most common ways large corporations avoid paying their fair share to the IRS. And indeed, the 31 firms who paid their CEOs more than Uncle Sam operate 237 subsidiaries in low- or no-tax zones like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
But that’s just one tax-dodging trick. Corporations have lobbied successfully for a plethora of other tax loopholes and subsidies.
Boeing, for example, has figured out how to double dip in the Treasury’s pool.
The aerospace giant hauled in more than $20 billion in federal contracts in 2013. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, taxpayers also picked up the tab for $300 million of Boeing’s research expenses last year through a tax break that Congress is now considering making permanent.
When tax time came, Boeing got $82 million back from the IRS, despite reporting nearly $6 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits. Meanwhile, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney made $23.3 million.
Corporate tax dodging is bad for ordinary Americans — and our nation’s long-term economic health.
For example, if Boeing had paid the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent on its $6 billion in profits, it would’ve added an extra $2 billion to the funds available for public services. That sum would’ve covered the cost of hiring 2,775 teachers for a year.
Shirking taxes may boost the bottom line in the short term, but in the long run it erodes the economic infrastructure businesses need to be competitive.
Unfortunately, the current political rhetoric has little to do with cracking down on corporate tax avoidance.
Republicans are hooked on corporate tax giveaways. And President Barack Obama has suggested that he’s ready to reward corporations for stashing money overseas by giving them deeply discounted tax rates on their profits if they’ll just agree to bring them home.
Both of these positions are based on the unfounded claim that smaller corporate tax burdens translate into more good jobs.
In a Hart Research poll of voters on election night, only 22 percent favored taxing corporations less. In the same poll, less than 30 percent wanted Congress to make tax cuts a higher priority than investments in education, health care, and job creation.
The American people have their priorities straight. They deserve leaders who do too.
By: Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger are the co-authors of “Fleecing Uncle Sam”; The National Memo, November 19, 2014
“At The End Of The Day, History Speaks For Itself”: On Immigration, Obama Is On The Right Side Of History
With the President’s recent return from his diplomatic trip in Asia, and the year about to end, Barack Obama is getting ready to sign what many call “one of his biggest political decisions of his presidency.”
In Washington, there are rumors that as early as this week, the President could be taking executive action in regards to immigration.
And even before the President makes a final decision on the matter, Republicans have been attacking the President on his decision to temporarily reform the country’s immigration system, accusing him of abusing his presidential powers and calling the executive orders “unconstitutional.”
Further, some Republicans within the party have said that they would be willing to put the government’s budget for 2015 at risk, and some have even alluded to a possibility of shutting down the government, if the president decides to act on immigration.
This would be a grave and dangerous error, since such actions would put our country’s economy at risk, as well as the credit of the United States.
Lately, Republicans have been using the constitutional argument, day after day, in hopes that the American people will listen.
However, what Republicans fail to mention, is that many former-presidents, many of them Republican, have used executive actions as a method to temporarily reform our country’s immigration system.
In 1987, President Reagan used the power of executive action to alleviate the country’s immigration standards to approximately 200,000 Nicaraguans in exile who were looking to flee their country’s communist regime at the time.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed an executive order alleviating our immigration system for Chinese students who were studying in the United States and potentially ran the risk of being persecuted back in their country of birth.
And if that wasn’t enough, in 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order, granting an immigration extension to approximately 150,000 Salvadorians, after their country was hit with an earthquake.
Even though it’s likely that Obama’s executive orders will benefit a much bigger number than the ones previously mentioned, the argument that an executive order on immigration is unconstitutional, is clearly false, no matter the amount of people who will benefit.
At the end of the day, history speaks for itself; the Executive Branch of the United States carries the power of reforming certain parts of our immigration system, as long as such changes aren’t permanent.
If Republicans are so desperate to stop President Obama from using his constitutional powers to solve a problem where Congress has failed to act, they have the power to do so. Its actually very simple: Do your job and pass Immigration Reform.
Time and time again, Republicans have failed to understand that when they attack the President on immigration, it’s not Obama they are attacking, but the Latino Community instead.
So when 2016 comes around and presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle are trying to persuade the “Latino Vote,” don’t be surprised that Republicans will not only loose it, but they’ll be loosing any chance they had of taking The White House as well.
By: Jose Aristimuno, Founder, Latino Giant; The Huffington Post Blog, November 18, 2014
When high-mindedness collides with reality, reality usually wins. Remember this when you hear talk of making the next two years a miracle of bipartisan comity.
Begin by being skeptical of the lists of what President Obama and the now Republican-controlled Congress should “obviously” agree on. Notice that liberal lists (including mine) start with immigration and sentencing reform while conservative lists focus on free trade and tax reform. Surprise! The election changed no one’s priorities.
And don’t be fooled by anyone who pretends that the 2016 election isn’t at the top of everyone’s calculations.
With Washington now so deeply divided philosophically, each side is primarily interested in creating a future government more congenial to getting what it wants. Republicans want to win total power two years from now; Democrats want to hang on to the presidency and take back the Senate.
Therefore, don’t misread the internal Republican debate. It is not a fight between pristine souls who just want to show they can govern and fierce ideologues who want to keep fighting. Both GOP camps want to strengthen the conservatives’ hand for 2016. They differ on how best to accomplish this.
The pro-governing Republicans favor a “first do no harm” approach. Thus did incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wisely rule out government shutdowns and debt-ceiling brinkmanship. He’s happy to work with Obama on trade because doing so advances a free market goal the GOP believes in — and because a trade battle would explode the Democratic coalition. For Republicans, what’s not to like?
The more militant conservatives are more candid about the real objective, which is “building the case for Republican governance after 2016.” Those words come from a must-read editorial in National Review, instructively entitled “The Governing Trap.”
“A prove-you-can-govern strategy will inevitably divide the party on the same tea-party-vs.-establishment lines that Republicans have just succeeded in overcoming,” the magazine argued. Also: “If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?”
They’re saying, in other words, that spending two more years making Obama look bad should remain the GOP’s central goal, lest Republicans make the whole country ready for Hillary Clinton. This is the prevailing view among conservatives. McConnell’s main argument with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and his followers is not about ends but means. McConnell is no less focused than Cruz on bringing down Obama and discrediting Democratic governance, but McConnell needs to be more subtle about it.
Where does this leave Obama and the Democrats? The first to-do item on Obama’s list must be to repair his currently abysmal relations with his own party on Capitol Hill. He will need his party as the GOP goes after him in one “investigative” hearing after another. He also needs them if he goes ahead, as he should, with executive orders on immigration reform.
Obama has already drawn a red line on immigration from which there is no easy retreat. And exit polls explain why Republicans, particularly House Speaker John Boehner, have little reason to act before Obama’s gone.
Overall, 57 percent of voters favored granting illegal immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status,” while 39 percent preferred deporting them. But those who favored deportation voted for Republican House candidates by better than 3 to 1. Boehner won’t risk alienating this loyal group. Better for Obama to pick a fight in which he is taking action than to give way to passivity and powerlessness.
In the end, Obama needs to govern as best he can even as he and his allies prepare for the longer struggle.
Democrats were tongue-tied about economics in the campaign. They avoided highlighting the substantial achievements of the Obama years for fear that doing so would make them seem out of touch with voters whose wages are stagnating. But neither did Democrats come up with plausible answers and policies to win over these voters. They lost both ways.
A Democratic Party paralyzed on economics won’t deserve to prevail. The president and his party — including Clinton — must find a way of touting their stewardship while advancing a bold but realistic agenda that meets the demands of Americans who are still hurting. This encompasses not only defending government’s role in achieving shared growth but also, as Obama suggested Friday, restoring faith in how government works.
Solving the country’s economic riddle would be a much better use of their time than investing in the fantasy that McConnell and Boehner will try to make Obama look good.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 09, 2014
This too shall pass. In the bipolar Gong Show of Washington politics, it’s the Republicans’ turn. Count on them to opt for televised spectacle over governing. It’s what they do.
You think a guy like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be dutifully attending committee meetings and painstakingly crafting legislation? Not as long as President Obama’s still in the White House and there are TV cameras on the premises.
There’s actually an editorial in the influential conservative magazine National Review entitled “The Governing Trap.”
It argues for two more years of Animal House Republicanism: “If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?”
See, it’s not about helping you or me; it’s about power.
Speaking of 2016, does anybody imagine the pendulum’s stopped swinging? Here’s the deal: the GOP made big Senate gains in 2004, 2010 and 2014, the Democrats in 2006, 2008 and 2012.
Comes the 2016 presidential election year, 24 of 34 incumbent senators will be Republicans — seven in states that Obama won twice.
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich is so old he can remember back when Rush Limbaugh’s personal hero became Speaker of the House:
“I was in the Clinton administration Election Day 1994 when Democrats lost both houses of Congress and Newt Gingrich became king of the Hill,” he writes. “It was horrible. But you know what? It created all sorts of opportunities. It smoked Republicans out. They could no longer hide behind blue-dog Democrats. Americans saw them for who they were. Gingrich became the most hated man in America. The 1994 election also marked the end of the coalition of conservative Republicans and southern Democrats that had controlled much of Congress since the end of the New Deal.”
Alas, Gingrich’s demise took several years. He was simply outmaneuvered politically by Bill Clinton, while widespread exposure to his grating personality and gigantic ego eventually forced him out. The Clinton impeachment doomed him.
Meanwhile, however, those blue-dog Democrats have nearly all become Republicans. I’d argue that the demise of regionally and ideologically diverse American political parties — i.e. of liberal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats — has brought paralysis to Washington. The merger of GOP economic primitivism with Southern-style fundamentalist religiosity has badly damaged bipartisanship.
Always and everywhere, certitude is the enemy of compromise. After all, if God says that cutting tycoons’ income taxes infallibly leads to higher revenues and enhanced prosperity, it would be sinful to notice that it’s never actually happened in the visible world.
Gingrich got elected due to the Clinton tax increases of 1993, which every single Republican in Congress voted against amid universal predictions of doom. The actual result turned out to be 25 million new jobs and a balanced budget.
What’s more, does anybody remember that the supposed rationale for President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts was that paying down the national debt too soon might stifle investment? Certainly nobody in the Tea Party does.
Meanwhile, count me among those who think that even “red state” Democrats who ran away from President Obama as if he had Ebola made a big mistake. (Remember Ebola? It’s so last week, I know. However, I await apologies from readers of the Chicken Little persuasion who objected to my writing that politicizing a disease was contemptible and the danger of a serious outbreak extremely small.)
But back to Obama. It’s true that his overall approval rating stands at 43 percent. Also, however, that the Republican Congress checks in at 13 percent. The president remains quite popular among the kinds of Democrats who mostly sat out the 2014 election.
True, many voters don’t understand how deep and dangerous a hole the U.S. economy had fallen into in 2008; nor that unemployment’s dropping sharply; the stock market’s more than doubled; and that the Federal budget deficit’s dropped from 9.8 percent to a fiscally sustainable 2.9 percent of GDP on Obama’s watch. But they’ll never know if Democrats don’t tell them.
Probably a candidate like Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor was doomed anyway. But how could anybody imagine the rope-a-dope tactic would work? The same is true regarding Obamacare. Why not praise the law’s popular features and talk about fixing the rest? The Republicans have no health insurance plan except back to the bad old days of “pre-existing conditions” and get sick/get canceled.
On the defensive, Democrats have articulated no persuasive plan for fixing what New York Times economics writer Dave Leonhardt calls “The Great Wage Slowdown.”
“Median inflation-adjusted income last year,” he writes, “was still $2,100 lower than when President Obama took office in 2009 — and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office in 2001.”
Well, they’d better find one. Meanwhile, the GOP/Animal House plan is well known: Cut Scrooge McDuck’s taxes; keep yelling Obama, Obama, Obama.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, November 12, 2014