Alan Gross at State of the Union: Thumb in Cuba’s eye or outstretched hand?

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama to challenge Republicans to back tax hikes in big speech.

President Barack Obama, facing a new Republican majority in Congress, is expected to ask for a broad package of tax and other reforms in his annual address to lawmakers. WASHINGTON — President Obama will argue Tuesday that the nation has “turned the page” from its past economic problems and use his annual State of the Union speech to push long-blocked Democratic ideas in the face of new Republican majorities in Congress. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?,” Obama plans to say according to excerpts released by the White House. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” In an address devoted to what he calls “middle class economics,” Obama plans to promote a tax hike on the wealthy, new tax breaks for child care, and programs that include two free years of community college, lower interest rates on mortgage insurance and new requirements for paid sick leave. The biggest proposals that he will present to Congress and the country will be non-starters with the newly-minted Republican Congress whose support Obama will need to pass legislation.

Reports of its demise, to paraphrase Mark Twain, have been “greatly exaggerated.” Start with the idea that “only” thirty million people will watch it. In addition to economic measures, Obama will also focus on fighting terrorism, but the president will announce that the country is moving beyond the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001 and the past 15 years. “We are 15 years into this new century. Bush, told The Daily Beast. “There are so many other proposals [Obama] could have started with instead—what a wasted opportunity to reach across the aisle and secure a better legacy for himself.” For the president, there aren’t many options left. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.

The idea of raising the top capital gains and dividends tax rate to 28 percent from 23.8 percent is popular with Democrats who are looking beyond Obama’s tenure to the 2016 elections. For Obama, seeking to burnish his legacy with two years left in office, the speech will be his best opportunity of the year to talk to millions of Americans watching on television about the improved economy six years into his tenure, which began with the Democrat facing a crippling financial crisis. “At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.

On foreign policy, Obama will call on lawmakers to pass a new authorization of military force against Islamic State militants to replace powers that were given to President George W. Though both sides would like to tinker with the tax code to give some relief to the middle class, Obama and the Democrats want to pay for it by making those at the very top of the economic ladder share a slightly larger piece of their vast wealth. Republicans don’t want to make up for lost revenues at all, unless it is by squeezing government programs such as food stamps and environmental protection even more than they have been.

He will say the U.S.-led effort to stop Islamic State from advancing in Iraq and Syria is working without dragging the United States into another ground war in the Middle East. A doctor who has treated Ebola patients will join a senator from Nebraska; the father of one of the Isla Vista shooting victims was invited; and several Cuban pro-democracy activists will also be guests in the gallery. Thune contrasted the current toxic climate with when he was a Capitol Hill staffer in the 1980s, describing President Ronald Reagan’s White House working with key Congressional leaders, sending back and forth different proposals. “The White House and the president have expressed interest, rhetorically… but when push comes to shove, really engaging with the Congress, we haven’t seen that,” Thune said.

Even though Obama has robbed the event of suspense by unveiling many of his policy ideas ahead of time there is a good reason to gather the family around the television to see what the president actually says. Bush, said that Clinton’s second-to-last SOTU focused on big issues where parties could find common ground: the federal budget surplus, welfare reform—even solving the Y2K problem. In the past, the most prominent tax breaks have generally been treated as equals–the mortgage deduction is pretty much the same as, say, the capital gains preference or the charitable contributions write-off.

In the context of the kind of divided government we have today, big proposals requiring Congressional cooperation may ring hollow,” Fitzpatrick said. “But it doesn’t mean the speech itself is devoid of meaning or significance.” After last year’s jittery succession of crises, from Ebola to Ferguson, the public could use some reminding that things are actually getting better. Supreme Court upended campaign finance laws in the Citizens United decision, Obama scorched the ruling. “Last week,” he thundered, “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections.” Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” from the front row.

Ken Vogel in Politico reported the top 100 donors to political committees in the 2014 election gave almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined.

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