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Archive for January, 2013

Perfect could be enemy of the good on immigration

January 31st, 2013

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This piece was originally published in The Hill.

The phone rings in the house of an undocumented immigrant who has lived here for decades. The person on the line offers her a deal. If she registers with the US government, goes through a criminal background check, and pays a fine, she will be forever allowed to work, travel, and conduct her affairs in America without fear of deportation. For her children, even better — they will be given a fast-track path to citizenship. And down the line, once more is done to secure the border, she can get in the back of the line and eventually earn her citizenship as well.
 
Is there any chance she would say no?

On Monday, a bipartisan group of 8 Senators released an immigration reform proposal that would offer exactly that scenario to undocumented immigrants. Yet many reform advocates reacted warily to the plan, and even the Administration offered a few pointed criticisms in its otherwise favorable statement. In particular, they argued that using a “trigger” of border security to determine when some immigrants can move from a provisional legal status to a permanent one with a path to citizenship is unacceptable.

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Is Government No Longer a Four Letter Word?

January 25th, 2013

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“Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
With that bloodless, analytical sentence from his second inaugural address, President Obama set off a firestorm of protest among conservatives. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the speech “unabashedly far-left-of-center.” House Speaker John Boehner said the President’s mission was to “annihilate the Republican Party.”

“Good grief,” Charlie Brown would say.

What Obama was doing was responding to the Reagan Revolution. The rallying cry of that revolution, delivered in President Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address, was this: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” That has been the reigning principle of American politics for 32 years. Even President Clinton reaffirmed it when he said in 1996, “The era of big government is over.”

President Obama wasn’t saying the era of big government is back. He was saying that Republicans have gone too far. They have been taken over by the Tea Party, which challenges the most consensual functions of government: providing security and ensuring opportunity. That requires–the President dared to say–”collective action.” The term “collective action” gives Republicans a nosebleed. It sounds like collectivism. That’s socialism!

Actually, it’s the most basic function of government. This country has been debating strong government versus weak government for more than 200 years. The bias has always been in favor of weak government. Most people came here seeking economic freedom or religious freedom. They associated government with excessive power (King George III). The country’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation (1781), set up a central government that was so weak it was unworkable. It had to be thrown out and replaced by the Constitution in 1789.

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Obama mobilizes his New America

January 23rd, 2013

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There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.

Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”

According to the January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 68 percent of Democrats do not have a gun in their household.  Fifty-nine percent of Republicans do. Among Democrats, 53 percent say passing stricter gun control laws should be given the highest priority; only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

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Hagel-ian Dialectic

January 9th, 2013

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Washington is abuzz with speculation that the President’s nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel is in jeopardy. The reason? Remarks he made on gays and a perceived “softness” on Israel. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina called Hagel’s nomination “in-your-face.” Despite these sorts of barbs, Hagel is a shoo-in for confirmation. That’s why Hagel and the Obama administration should take the confirmation process as an opportunity to build bridges, not burn them.

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On gun control, taxes and other issues, Democrats must seize this moment

January 4th, 2013

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This piece was originally published in The Washington Post.

The collapse of John Boehner’s effort to get his party to rally behind a plan to raise taxes reveals the disarray and disagreement among Republicans. Democrats are urging them to forget about the hard-liners and go back to the negotiating table.

That’s good advice for Democrats as well.

If Democrats play their cards right, a combination of political and demographic forces, and dangerous precipitating events, could create a tipping-point moment, when they can advance their priorities not just on taxes, but also on guns, marriage for gays and lesbians, immigration, and even climate change.

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Post fiscal cliff: The fix is in

January 2nd, 2013

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We’ve been trying to deal with the national debt in this country for 30 years now. The fiscal cliff is just the latest failed gimmick. We’ve had more failed gimmicks than professional wrestling.

Failed? Yes, because the whole idea of the fiscal cliff was to force the federal government to put in place a long-term reduction of the national debt. And look what happened. Instead of reducing the national debt, the deal passed by Congress late Tuesday night will add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

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