Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Why Congress Will Take Us Over The Cliff (And Other Depressing Predictions)

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

Before the year ends, I decided to go on record about how I think Congress will deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff”. I do this in hopes that they might prove me wrong. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Congress will send us over the cliff.

I do not believe that Congress will be able to pass any legislation that could be described as a tax increase. The Republicans will not allow themselves to vote for such. Memories are long about how the elder George H. W. Bush raised taxes despite having pledged not to (in his famous “read my lips” declaration), and he never recovered among conservatives. Every Republican must court the conservatives because their party has alienated every other group; they have no one left.

On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire, so this means that tomorrow there will be an income tax increase for everyone who pays income taxes. The negotiations will suddenly switch from increasing taxes to lowering taxes. Republicans love to be able to claim credit for lowering taxes, so their attitude about passing legislation to solve the fiscal cliff will change dramatically at that point.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Democrats will more comfortably vote for legislation after the New Year. Just as taxes go up tomorrow, spending cuts take effect as well. A vote today for a Democrat means cutting a program, but tomorrow it will mean restoring a program.

So for both parties, a deal today looks bad politically because in a few years their opponent will be able to use the deal to attack them among their base. This is one reason, I believe, that John Boehner and the House yielded their constitutional duty to originate laws concerning the budget over to the Senate. If an ugly deal was going to happen, they wanted to make sure that it was the Democratic Senate that could be blamed.

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have the upper hand, I fear they will give up more than the Republicans in the compromise. First of all, I believe Obama and the Democrats are less willing to hurt people in order to achieve their political aims. If I’m right, Democrats will feel the pain of regular Americans more than Republicans. They will be more desperate to find a solution, and we have already seen the Republicans take advantage of this dynamic.

Second, I think Republicans are more afraid of their Tea Party base than Democrats are of their progressive base. Republicans will be more stubborn about pleasing their base than the Democrats. Third, Obama and the Democrats are already making more noises about compromises that they would be willing to make. So I fear that we are already seeing the conversation shift in the Republican’s favor.

By the middle of January, I believe that we will see a deal that gives more to the Tea Party than to the progressives. Naturally both sides will declare victory, but I believe that people will be crying about how Obama got outsmarted again. I believe that Obama’s favorability ratings will decline: his supporters will be unhappy with his negotiations, and those in the middle will see him as weak. The deal will avoid disaster, but it will not help the economy. It may not derail the recovery, but it will slow it down.

If I’m right, then it probably means that we will have another fight very soon about raising the debt limit, and unless Obama wins this fiscal cliff negotiation, then it will likely be another repeat of the mess we’ve already seen.

As I said, I’d love to be proven wrong. My version of the future is too depressing.

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What’s Behind the Witch Hunt?

Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN.

Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The republican narrative about the Obama administration’s “sins” concerning Benghazi always puzzled me. What precisely were they outraged about? Did republicans really buy this idea that the President would try to hide a terrorist attack from the American people? Did republicans expect me to believe that Obama thought such an attack would weaken his re-election chances when history shows that wars result in the American public rallying behind the Commander in Chief? Regardless of what republicans hoped, their tactic didn’t help elect Mitt Romney.

So now that the election is over, and their “October surprise” fizzled, why is my senator, Lindsay Graham and others still beating this Benghazi drum? And why are they trying to go after Susan Rice, who clearly was never the person in charge of anything concerning Benghazi? I could never understand their motive. I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to accomplish besides a continuation of their ongoing public relations war against all things Obama.

Now, I think I understand, and I’m wondering what took me so long. If the republicans can sabotage the career of Susan Rice, then they can increase the chances of John Kerry being selected as Secretary of State. Kerry has always been the “other” potential candidate for the job. If John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, then he will have to resign from the Senate. If he resigns from the Senate, then there will be a special election in Massachusetts to replace him. And the last time there was such an election in Massachusetts, a republican named Scott Brown won.

Official portrait of United States Senator Sco...

Ex-Senator Scott Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So at this point, my best guess as to why these guys are obsessing over Susan Rice is because they are hoping to give Scott Brown another bite at the apple. They are willing to sabotage this public servant’s career just for the chance that they might gain one more seat in the Senate.

Of course, I could be wrong, maybe they really are motivated by something else, but honestly this is the only explanation I have found that makes any sense to me.

This is Fiscal Responsibility?

U.S. soldiers tour the Saint Elijah Monastery ...

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The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a defense authorization bill to spend $690 billion dollars yesterday. That’s odd because they still haven’t given themselves permission to raise the debt limit to pay for the stuff that they already agreed to buy in the past. That’s funny because the Republican’s are screaming about how bad the deficit is, and yet they are still signing checks that will overdraw their account. That’s funny because they are increasing spending more on defense than the Obama administration requested. It’s funny because the Republicans are the ones who say that we need to balance the books by cutting spending without even considering doing anything to bring in more money.

Republicans talk about how sacrifice is needed to solve our debt problem. That’s funny because so far the only people who they have expected to sacrifice are citizens who traditionally don’t vote for them; they still want their pet projects and their base to keep receiving goodies from the government.

The Republicans claim it is the President and the Democrats who are playing politics around the deficit.  That’s funny because  they are the ones holding the solvency of the U.S. hostage to their own special interests. That’s funny because they are the ones who attached provisions to this $690 Billion bill to prevent us from dealing with Guantanamo detainees in a way consistent with our constitution and in a way that is consistent with the liberties for which we fight wars. That’s funny because they have also attached a provision that prevents us from reducing the number of nuclear weapons we have.

The Republicans insist that the only way to fix the deficit is to make people pay more for their healthcare, and they say the government should subsidize private health insurance rather than be in the business of providing healthcare. That’s funny because this bill also reduced the amount that the Secretary of Defense suggested was the military’s fair share to pay for its own government-provided healthcare costs.

Many Republicans complained that Obama did not flex our military muscle adequately to support the Libyan rebels. It’s odd that they also passed a bill to prohibit the Commander in Chief to use any money to put ground troops in Libya. It’s funny that they want to give the military more money, but they don’t actually want our president to be able to use it as Commander in Chief. That’s funny because the last president the Republicans gave this country started two wars for very dubious reasons.

So why am I not laughing?

Yet it is the Republicans who claim to be fiscally responsible, and the Tea Party elected them to eliminate political games in Washington.  Now, that’s funny!

Republican Army of the Gullible

Republican Party (United States)

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the good news: the number of birthers (people who believe that Barak Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.A.) has declined from 20% to only 10% of the population following the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate.

Here’s the bad news: the number of people who believe that Osama bin Laden is still alive is sitting at 20% of the population.

So what’s going on here. Why do so many people believe things that facts show are false? Many theories abound. Maybe it’s part of the wave of the internet–where anyone can broadcast whatever bogus information they want. Maybe it’s because people are so suspicious of authority. Maybe it reflects a decline in public education.

I think there are many reasons, but I believe that one of the primary reasons has to do with politics, plain and simple. After losing the last presidential election so significantly, the Republican Party adopted a strategy as outlined by Rush Limbaugh, who famously said that he hoped that Obama would fail. After winning a majority in the House during the mid-term elections, the Republican Speaker of the House echoed Limbaugh by naming his top priority as defeating Obama. It was no longer about what was best for America, or even what was good for America, it had been reduced to a purely political calculus: the Republicans just want to be in power.

Obama identified this tactic last September when he commented “If I say the sky is blue, [Republicans] say ‘no.’ If I said fish live in the sea, [Republicans would] say ‘no.'”

Because Rush Limbaugh has been inoculating millions of listeners against truth and fact for a generation, the Republicans have a gullible core of people who are primed to disbelieve and dislike Obama regardless of who he is or what he does. This sets Republicans up to make their strategy effective. They can oppose even dire needs of our country (like fixing the financial system or not defaulting on our governments obligations) because it works to the benefit of their political party. If the economy tanks, that’s great news because they can blame it on their bogey man, Obama. If Americans die because they can’t go to the doctor, that’s great news because they can blame it on Obamacare.

And every time Obama outshines his Republican predecessor (as in actually finding Osama bin Laden), then they’re ready with their whisper campaign of doubts to sway their army of the gullible.

The Menace Is Put To Rest

A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been nearly a decade, and we finally have succeeded in eliminating Osama Bin Laden. The chapter on our war on terrorism could never be closed without his capture or death, so I am thrilled with the rest of America about the news.

I especially appreciated the President’s remarks during his announcement encouraging us to come together as we did in the aftermath of the attack in 2001.

I for one hope that we can begin to draw down our war efforts as a result of this news. It is true that terrorism has not been defeated, but that is an impossible goal. But I remain unconvinced that there is much constructive purpose in our efforts in our two lingering wars from September 11th.

“My Bad!”

Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fash...

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“My Bad!” Those are apparently two words that we’ll never hear Donald Trump put together in a sentence. Here’s a man who took to the airwaves to spread false rumors and lies about the President of the United States. He pandered to conspiracy obsessed Tea Party folk to bolster himself, and then when his lies were exposed, he declares that he is proud of himself.

It is a picture of hubris and shamelessness. It is a picture of a person who has nothing but disdain for truth. Unfortunately it is a picture that is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. I am ashamed that many of these people tout their Christianity in public. They give the impression that Jesus stood for lies and hate rather than truth and love.

It is a dangerous thing for a democracy when a good percentage of people allow their prejudices to shape their understanding of reality. If we indeed have as many problems as people think; it is hardly likely that we will build a solution on a bedrock of gossip and innuendo.

Enemies of the State

Protestors at the Philadelphia Tea Party on Ap...

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The Tea Party was born out of anger at the U.S. Government for stepping in to rescue U.S. financial institutions in order to avoid the collapse of the U.S. economic system. This group of people managed to send enough representatives to the U.S. House to form a powerful block within the Republican Party. We are now seeing the fruit of their labors, and the fruit is quite consistent with the interests they have shown from the start.

Last week they threatened to shut down the U.S. government unless the President and the Senate gave into their demands to cripple various programs of the U.S. government. They won a compromise that got them closer to their goal. They managed to make cuts to the EPA, law enforcement, and high speed rail development.

Now they’re ready for round two.  John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house has already indicated that he would refuse to raise the debt ceiling on what the U.S. government owes unless more programs of the U.S. government are gutted.

If the debt ceiling were not raised, then this could lead to the U.S. government defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history. The ensuing financial crisis doesn’t much matter to a  man who was swept into power by a group who was angry the last time the U.S. government acted to avoid such a crisis. He is enjoying the bravado of a politician with a Dirty Harry sort of swagger, “go ahead, make my day.”

The President of the U.S., Barak Obama was swept into power by a group who was angry at the divisive politics of Washington.  He is interested in solving problems through reasonable means. Boehner, the Republicans, and the Tea Party are trying to use this to their political advantage. They see compromise as a weakness. They extol the “strength” of not being willing to compromise.

I wonder what we should call these enemies of the state who want to dismantle every government program in the service of reducing the taxes of the wealthy? What made these citizens hate their government so much that they’d rather see it fall into crisis than to continue serving its citizens in the way it is doing today?

Who Wants a Government Shutdown?

Daily News cover illustrated by Ed Murawinski.

Image via Wikipedia

The Tea Party Republicans in Congress have been using the 2011 budget as a way to extort the rest of Congress and the President into agreeing to their various demands. They have been using short extensions to ensure that in a few weeks they can have another showdown where they get to add more demands. Currently they are demanding more cuts than others want, and they are even adding abortion and the environment into the budget mix.

Many have speculated about who wins politically from a shutdown. I am not sure the answer to that question, but I certainly know that the Tea Party wants to shut down the government. Their entire premise is that government is the root of all ills and evil. The want to shrink the size of government so that all it does is fight wars and put police and firefighters on the streets. Their vision of paradise resembles a banana republic where the government protects the property of and serves the interests of the rich.

It’s as if the Tea Party has now kidnapped the government, and we see the rest of our elected officials negotiate for the release of that hostage. We have seen this before.  Back when right-wing Republicans stormed the capitol with their Contract for America, they tried this tactic of holding the government hostage.  Thankfully, they were not successful that time to get their way. If the Tea Party gets their way this time rather than settling for a compromise, then we can be sure that this small band of legislators will spend the next two years using any sort of threat they can muster to try to remake America into their image.

If this band of spoiled brats get their way by pitching a fit, this will likely lead to a precedent for other minority groups to adopt the strategy of no compromise to get their way as well. If we lose our willingness to compromise with those who are different, then we lose one of the most precious things about America.

My, How Feverishly The Hawks Are Spinning!

President George W. Bush addresses sailors dur...

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All of the sudden we’ve seen an explosion of American pundits criticizing their President over his handling of Libya.  Most of these detractors are conservative hawks who cannot stand how Obama has dealt with this situation.  He engaged the rest of the world, and he carefully considered many options before embarking on military action.

These hawks loved the George W. Bush approach: shoot first and ask questions later.  Of course at the time they labeled as traitors those who dared to criticize a president in the time of war.

But desperate times require desperate measures.  Now that we have a president who actually governs as if war is undesirable, they must not miss this opportunity to influence America’s voters.  They would like to convince America to tolerate nothing less than shooting first and asking questions later.  If they can manage to convince voters, then they can ensure that the Republican Party will do well in the next election.

Sometimes Things Don’t Unfold According To Plans

Fiscally

Image by chbrenchley via Flickr

I have been looking forward to the House tackling a budget because I am hoping it will force the GOP to back up their promise for drastic cuts with some concrete details.  I am sure that conservatives have been looking forward to it as well.  They are likely seeing it as another opportunity to focus on cutting government spending.  They get to haul out all of their old canards about how terrible the Democrats are in general and how terrible Obama is in particular.

The only problem with their plan has been an unfortunate coincidence.  While they are posturing over the budget, Middle Eastern nations are undergoing a potential revolution.  The overthrow of the government in Egypt has eclipsed the budget in the news. Actual history-in-the-making trumps political posturing.

The spreading revolution reminds me of the crumbling of the Soviet empire.  People power is spreading from country to country.  I am not predicting that this will turn out as significantly or well as the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is similar in the way it has organically grown.  These regime changes were not sparked by CIA plots or military invasions.

Consider the comparison between the fall of Hosni Mubarak and Saddam Hussain. Both fell rather quickly, but only one of those events cost the U.S. a lot of money. Only one of those smelled of imperialism. After Hussain fell, we have had to continue to meddle in order to achieve our true objective.  We enjoyed deposing Hussain, but more importantly we want the new Iraq to be friendly to the U.S. There is no guarantee that the new Egypt will be friendly to the U.S. There is no guarantee that the new Iraq will be friendly to the U.S. It will be fascinating to track these two cases and make a comparison.

Getting back to the Soviet Union: I’m not sure how “friendly” I would say Russia has been to the U.S. since the fall of the Soviet Union.  Americans tend to credit Reagan for the fall of the Soviet Union. I suspect this appears to foreigners like typical American hubris. My conservative brother-in-law remarked recently that presidents should be held accountable for good and bad things that happen in their administrations. He was not willing to blame Bush for 9/11, however, and now I wonder whether he will credit Obama with the fall of Egypt and for whatever good things may come out of this current wave of democracy. I feel quite certain he will readily blame Obama for whatever the rabid right can find wrong with the consequences of these revolts.