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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

EPA’s Proposed Greenhouse Gas Rules: Not Radical But Radically Pragmatic

June 16th, 2014

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As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to regulate power plant emissions sparked some mild hysteria on the left and the right. The right says the proposed rules will usher in an economic catastrophe. The left says they are just shy of salvation for the climate. You would think the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rules were a radical approach to a tough problem – and you’d be half right.  Climate change is a very tough problem – but the EPA’s proposed solutions are far from radical.

In reality, the state-based approach taken by the agency is perhaps the most practical solution yet proposed to address climate change. That’s because it leaves it up to the states and utilities, who best understand their markets, to sit in the driver’s seat and use existing technologies and strategies to write their own emissions plans that maintain the affordability and reliability of their electricity.  It’s a novel, practical approach. This is not just the view from Washington, D.C. Editorials across coal and oil country echoed the same sentiments. Read the rest of this entry »

An Election Democrats Can Win

April 11th, 2014

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Obamacare versus Ryanomics. That’s the battle line for 2014. It’s also a battle Democrats can win.

Why? Because most Americans are pragmatists. Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Ideologues believe that if something is wrong, it can’t possibly work — even if it does work. That’s the Republican view of Obamacare: It’s wrong, so it can’t possibly work.

But it now looks like Obamacare may work. More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance by the March 31 deadline, meeting the Obama administration’s original goal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “The Affordable Care Act, whether my Republican friends want to admit it or not, is working.”

Republicans admit nothing. “Even though the Democrats are trying to take some victory lap, it’s very short term,” Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) told the New York Times. “The bad news continues. The hits keep coming.”

Do they? The Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular, though some polls show a slight uptick in public support. “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised last week. (They have already voted to repeal all or parts of the law 55 times.) The Republican view is simple: It’s wrong, therefore it can’t possibly work.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to repeal a law that gives health insurance to so many Americans. A recent Rand study estimates that 9.3 million American adults were added to the insurance rolls as of March, a figure that includes those who signed up in the new marketplace, received new employer coverage or enrolled in Medicaid. They are all being helped by Obamacare.

Still, it’s too early to conclude that the law will work. There are many challenges coming. The employer mandate goes into effect next year, and some employers may use the requirement to cover their employees’ health insurance as a pretext to reduce workers’ hours and wages.

Moreover, insurers will announce new premiums for 2015 this fall. If the risk pools do not include enough young and healthy people, premiums could skyrocket.  That would set off a backlash among those currently insured — just in time for the midterm elections.

In the public’s view, the Affordable Care Act should be mended but not ended. What people don’t want to lose are the two most popular provisions of the act — requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said those provisions would be too expensive to include in any Republican replacement measure.

The least popular component is the individual mandate requiring every American to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. If you do away with the mandate, however, the entire plan falls apart. So mending the law won’t be easy.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Democrats had a stroke of luck.  On April 1, Ryan came out with a 10-year budget plan involving massive cuts in popular federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education, student loans and environmental protection. Ryan’s proposal would eventually change Medicare — the most popular of all federal programs — from an insurance policy to a “premium support” program, where seniors would be given subsidies to purchase private insurance. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed doing that in 2012. Look where it got him

“Thank you, thank you, Congressman Paul Ryan for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) remarked. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic whip, called it “a bad April Fool’s joke.”

Ryan’s proposal, which includes repeal of Obamacare, is a severe austerity plan aimed at achieving a balanced budget by 2024. There is no evidence that most Americans are willing to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary to get a balanced budget. Nor is Ryanomics likely to be signed into law.

What it does is give Democrats something to run against. “The choice is stark,” Reid said, as he stood on the Senate steps flanked by more than 30 Democratic senators. “The American people are watching.”

Democrats will run against Ryanomics. Republicans will run against Obamacare. Remember the rule of pragmatism: Whatever works is right.

If Americans come to believe Obamacare works, they will be reluctant to throw it out.  Especially the millions who will already have a stake in Obamacare. On the other hand, Ryan is threatening to do away with programs like Medicare that people know are working. Why? Because he and his fellow Republicans think those programs are wrong. Attacking programs that work is pure ideological bloodlust. And a losing battle for sure.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.

Can Obama circumvent Washington?

February 3rd, 2014

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Washington is broken,” Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, said in September 2008. “My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works.”

There are three ways that Washington works: compromise, crisis and clout. Compromise is the way Washington is supposed to work. It’s practically mandated by the Constitution, with its complex system of checks and balances and separation of powers. It’s the way the U.S. government has worked for more than 200 years.

But it’s not working very well any more. Party positions have dug in. Deal-making is harder now that there are fewer moderates in Congress. It has taken more than two years for the House of Representatives to pass a farm bill, and it’s already under attack by both conservatives and liberals.

Congress did pass a budget deal last month, and there’s a reasonable chance that some version of immigration reform will go through this year. In both cases, the driving force is fear. Congressional Republicans are desperate to avoid another government shutdown over the budget. They are also determined to avoid a repeat of 2012, when minority voters, angry over Republican opposition to immigration reform, voted overwhelmingly Democratic.

Things can get done quickly in Washington if there’s a sense of crisis in the country. It took only a few weeks after September 11 to pass the Patriot Act, for example. The financial crisis of 2008 drove a whole slew of legislation — from the government bailouts under President George W. Bush to Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, remarked early in the first term. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

But a crisis cannot be declared. It has to be real. Voters have to feel an overwhelming sense of urgency. That’s why politicians are always hyping issues. They declare an education crisis or an environmental crisis or an energy crisis. Or they try to rally the country to fight a “war” on something — a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on terror. If the public urgency is not authentic, however, opponents won’t have much trouble blocking government action.

Recently, Democrats have been talking about a growing crisis over income inequality. “Those at the top have never done better,” the president said Tuesday night. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened.”

The income gap between rich and poor in the United States is the widest of 10 advanced countries, according to the Pew Research Center. But fewer than half of Americans think it’s a big problem. That’s the lowest level of concern of any country except Australia, which has a much smaller income gap.

Obama is counting on the inequality issue to get two significant pieces of legislation through Congress this year: an increase in the federal minimum wage, which was last raised to $7.25 an hour in 2009, and an extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people,” Obama told Congress.

The measures are far from certain to pass. Which is why the president decided to resort to Option 3 — clout. The White House calls it a “pen and phone” strategy. Use the pen to sign executive orders. Use the phone to persuade private operations to adopt policies that are in the public interest. No congressional action required.

During the State of the Union, the president singled out the owner of a Minneapolis pizza parlor who just gave his employees a raise. “Tonight,” Obama said, “I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages.”

Then Obama announced he was signing an executive order requiring future federal contractors to pay workers a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. He also said he would sign executive orders mandating higher fuel efficiency standards for trucks, more investment in classroom technology and better federal job training programs.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I am going to do,” the president told Congress.

Republican lawmakers are calling it a power grab, but who cares? The public’s opinion of Congress could hardly be worse. The problem is that executive orders are usually narrow and impermanent. “How many people, Mr. President,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked, “will this executive action [requiring future federal contractors to pay at least the minimum wage] actually help? I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero.”

An executive order can always be rescinded by the next president.  It’s much harder to repeal legislation — as Republicans are discovering with Obamacare.

Clout is an assertive approach to governing that usually produces modest results. Usually, but not always. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, using his wartime authority as commander in chief. But it still did not have the force of law. In order to abolish slavery permanently, Lincoln had to maneuver Congress into passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two years later. (It’s all in the movieLincoln.)

Obama’s speech was an acknowledgment of failure. He has not been able to “change how Washington works.” So he has to circumvent the process.

Obama is not alone. The last four presidents — two Democrats and two Republicans — all tried to change Washington. They all failed.

The problem isn’t Obama. The problem is the problem.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.

Can States’ Rights Work for Liberals?

December 5th, 2013

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Can states’ rights work for liberals? It has always been a conservative cause. Conservatives use states’ rights to resist federal policies that protect civil rights, voting rights, and abortion rights. Today, however, federal action is often blocked. So progressive states are passing laws that bypass gridlocked Washington and advance the liberal agenda on their own.

In his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, Barack Obama criticized pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” His rejoinder: “I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.”

Obama was wrong. Americans have become more and more politically segregated over the past 50 years. Since the 1960s, politics has come to reflect lifestyle and values, and people often choose to live among others who share their lifestyle and values. And therefore their politics.

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GOP on Obamacare: Divide and Conquer

December 2nd, 2013

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“Remember the strategy for stopping Obamacare we laid out to you back in July,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) told the House Republican conference last week. “Targeted legislative strikes aimed at shattering the legislative coalition the president has used to force his law on the nation.”

Thirty-nine House Democrats – one in five — voted for the measure. Democratic leaders breathed a cautious sigh of relief. Earlier last week, they feared that 100 or more anxious Democrats might defect. President Barack Obama’s “fix” for the Affordable Care Act, announced on Thursday, held back what might have been a tidal wave of defections.

Republicans want the old Democratic Party back.

That was the deeply divided party that fought over everything — wars, civil rights, spending, taxes. What happened during Obama’s first two years was something of a miracle. The Democratic Party held its majority together. They governed. We experienced something that is routine in a parliamentary system but rare in the United States — party government.

Democrats held similar majorities in Congress during President Bill Clinton’s first two years, 1993-94. Back then, however, the party could not hold together to pass healthcare reform.

By the time Obama took office 15 years later, however, everything had changed. In 2010, Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act on a strictly partisan vote. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for it.

Republicans are determined to kill it. They can’t do that as long as Obama is in the White House. So their new strategy is to make the law unworkable.

That was what the House vote was all about on Friday. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called it “another vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act” — something House Republicans have already voted to do 46 times.

What held Democrats together in 2010 — unlike 1994 — was indignation. The Tea Party had taken control of the GOP and driven it to extremes. The last straw came in September 2009, when Representative Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” at the president while he was addressing a joint session of Congress.

In politics as in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In 2010, Republican contempt produced Democratic solidarity.

If Democrats are becoming the nation’s new majority party — as last year’s election suggested they are — Republicans want them to be a divided and ineffective majority.

Last week, Republicans managed to peel off more than three dozen House Democrats. What split them off was terror. Most of those Democrats represent congressional districts where Republicans pose a real threat in next year’s midterm. They are terrified that they will have to defend Obama’s pledge that Americans who like their insurance policies will be able to keep them.

If the House bill isn’t going anywhere, where’s the threat to Obamacare coming from? From the one defection that matters: Obama himself. He, too, is threatened. Not by Republicans — Obama never has to face the voters again — but by the prospect of congressional Democrats abandoning him. That’s why he had to reverse course and offer the “fix.” It’s supposed to give Democrats political cover.

Congressional Democrats don’t seem especially happy with the president’s fix. They are trying to put together their own legislative remedy. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is proposing a bill that would allow people to keep their old health insurance plans — not for one year as Obama has proposed, but indefinitely. Several other Democratic senators have signed on, including some, like Landrieu, who face difficult re-election prospects next year.

The threat to Obamacare is clear. Allowing people to keep cut-rate, shoddy policies that do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act will create two separate risk pools. A lot of young, healthy Americans will stay with their old, cheap policies, while older and sicker people, desperate for coverage, will enroll in Obamacare.

That will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket next year. “Cancellation today, sticker shock tomorrow,” Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chief sponsor of the House Republican bill, predicted.

Obama is trying to limit the risk by allowing people to keep their old policies for one more year. The president’s expectation is that the old plans will simply die out and everyone will end up in Obamacare. But the old plans won’t die if people are allowed to keep them or if companies are allowed to keep selling them.

Angry liberals see what’s going on — and are furious. They are furious with the president for going wobbly. And with Republicans for trying to kill Obamacare piece by piece.

Liberals “don’t want to see this law eviscerated by death by a thousand cuts,” the executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action told Politico. “The answer is not to undo Obamacare or to undo major provisions of it like allowing those junk plans to continue.”

But that is precisely the game plan Boehner described to his party. So far, everything is going according to plan.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.

Rethinking How We Value Global Trade

February 20th, 2013

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This piece was originally published in U.S. News & World Report.

In his most recent State of the Union, President Obama touted the fact that American companies like Apple, Ford, and Intel are bringing manufacturing operations back to the United States. This key trend will support good American jobs—while strengthening the manufacturing and innovation ecosystem that’s a vital source of America’s global competitiveness.

Where things are “made” is crucial. But as America pursues important new trade deals in Asia and Europe, it’s also critical that we secure more “value” from our trade.

The iPhone in my pocket was “made” in China. When it was imported into the United States, it was treated by U.S. Customs as a 100 percent Chinese product, and it added somewhere around $230 to America’s $315 billion trade deficit with China.

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