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22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

E.J. Dionne: Obama: Damn the torpedoes.

But what actually happened was that after “I have no more campaigns to run” Republicans started clapping derisively. REDWOOD CITY, California – A noticeably revitalized President Barack Obama appeared Tuesday night before the new GOP-led Congress to paint the state of the nation. “America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed and the state of the Union is strong,” he said.The president circled back to the themes of change and unity that he campaigned on during his first presidential race as he defended the promises he made then and policies he believes have, and will, deliver. “My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol: to do what I believe is best for America,” he said.With those five words, President Obama made clear that he thinks it’s far more important to win a long-term argument with his partisan and ideological opponents than to pretend that they are eager to seize opportunities to work with him.

Obama was buoyed by a growing US economy, increasing number of jobs, lower gas prices, and a job approval rating that’s the highest since the government shutdown in 2013. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? A glance last night across the ashen Republican faces in a Congress controlled by Mr Obama’s rivals leaves little doubt that the progressive goals he set out last night have little chance of passing. Buoyed by some economic and political tides that seemed close to impossible as recently as two months ago, Obama used his platform to propose tax changes, workplace reforms and college-access ideas — all aimed at addressing a “middle class economics” to boost opportunities for impoverished and working-class Americans. But his ambitious array of proposals to raise stagnant incomes and provide more government support for struggling working families will frame his last two years in office and help make the politics of rich and poor a central issue in the campaign to succeed him. Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” he said. “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it.

With the economy finally on more solid ground, even leading Republicans — on Capitol Hill and on the nascent 2016 presidential campaign front — are tempering complaints about overall economic growth and refocusing on the more intractable problem of income inequality. President Obama hit back at his critics, noting how “the pundits” have said his presidency hasn’t delivered on his promise of unity, that politics appears more guided than ever and that his vision was misguided. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.” Good news, indeed, and in telling the Republicans that all their predictions turned out to be wrong, he was also reminding his fellow citizens which side, which policies and which president had brought the country back. And he appealed to members of Congress on a personal level, asking for “a better politics.” The president understands that his bold tax plan and other economic proposals will go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congress. By declaring the end of an era of foreign wars and financial crisis and the beginning of “a new chapter,” a confident Mr Obama claimed credit for the wind-down of unpopular conflicts and the economic crisis.

But he is banking that they will be noticed by the American public and form the basis of an economic agenda for a nation done with recession and ready to hit the accelerator. Similarly, Jeb Bush’s new super PAC, announced with the fanfare of a presidential declaration, proclaimed: “While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.” At a closed-door retreat last week, Sen. The GOP-led Congress is blocking Obama’s recent orders including his executive action on immigration. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. Mr Obama made no reference to the election hammering that Democrats took in November’s midterm elections and mostly ignored the political reality that he must broker deals with his opponents. Earlier in his administration, he might have begun the negotiations by offering his interlocutors their asking price upfront and then moving backward from there.

The idea of taxing earnings on investments in certain types of college savings accounts, for example, would dampen the incentive for families to put money aside for higher education. She appeared to take a less combative stance by saying she will not respond to the speech, but alluded to Washington’s faults, saying Congress has its own solutions. “Americans have been hurting,” she said. “But when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. Given that Republicans are unlikely to approve $320 billion of tax increases that penalise their supporters, Mr Obama’s bold declarations and proposals around “middle-class economics” are unlikely to break the pattern of partisan gridlock that paralysed the last Congress.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, veered into Republican territory when he vowed to pursue “pro-growth business tax reform that protects and strengthens the middle class, lowers rates, simplifies the system, levels the playing field, and eliminates unfair and inefficient loopholes.” Rep. The speech can be seen as Mr Obama’s attempt to consolidate a legacy as an agent of change, or at least at attempted change in the face of obstructionist Republicans.

This time around, Obama’s agenda was organized around the interests of middle-class American workers, the group his administration acknowledges has not been dealt into the economic recovery. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman and perhaps the Republican Party’s leading voice on poverty issues, praised the president’s “gifted speech” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and said he was glad Obama had “dialed down on the partisan class-warfare rhetoric.” Ryan said accord could be reached on ways to reduce poverty through expanding the earned income credit to childless adults, as both he and the president have proposed, and drafting a public works bill aimed at modernizing the nation’s aging infrastructure. And now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve.” As for the majority of the public, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows people believe that a divided government does not work well for the country. This may confirm his lame-duck status in the final two years of his presidency but it will energise the Democratic base by framing the political debate around middle-class policies and uncompromising Republicans in the run-up to the next presidential election in 2016.

Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, said Republicans needed to do a better job of explaining their policies in an emotional way that shows voters they care about them and understand their life experiences. “It’s not that we want to cut taxes because the math looks better,” he said. “It’s because we want people to make better decisions for themselves and believe they know how to use their money better than the government.” “It’s not just balancing a budget for the sake of balancing a budget,” Spicer continued. “It’s balancing a budget because right now we’re heaping debt and burden onto the next generation, and that’s not fair to them.” The problem for Republicans, though, is that a debate over wage stagnation and a shrinking middle class plays on Democratic turf, where Democrats can offer up what Romney once derided as “free stuff.” Rep. Mr Obama’s speech felt in parts like a farewell address defending his track record and long-held policy positions that he has no interest in compromising and which Republicans have no interest in passing. He even offered encouraging words to organized labor. “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions,” he said, “and give American workers a voice.” And in defending a free trade agreement likely to be opposed by many in the unions and in his own party, he tried to make his case in the name of worker rights. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, started the bidding this month with an ambitious plan to tax Wall Street financial transactions and raise taxes on the top 1 percent of earners to pay for a “paycheck bonus credit” of $2,000 a year for couples earning less than $200,000.

The president went further, threatening to veto Republicans if they tried to unwind his healthcare law, Wall Street rules or immigration actions or threatened nuclear talks with Iran by introducing sanctions. On Wednesday, congressional Democrats reintroduced legislation to block companies based in the United States from shifting their headquarters elsewhere to lower their tax burden. Ronald Reagan was never asked to stop being a conservative after Democrats took the Senate in the 1986 elections and emerged in control of both houses of Congress. Despite a spate of overaggressive police actions that gripped the nation’s attention last year, the crime rate and incarceration rates have both dropped.

Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., proposed an expansion of Social Security. “This plays to the Democratic sweet spot,” said James Pethokoukis, a commentator with the conservative American Enterprise Institute who writes on economic policy. “They can say, ‘Hey, we have a whole set of answers.’” Republicans need a serious response, Pethokoukis said. Bush for his courage in upping his commitment in Iraq through the troop surge even though the Democratic sweep of 2006 was in large part a repudiation of the war on which he doubled down.

Still, there is much to worry about in a world where other economies remain crippled, where too many regimes remain dysfunctional and brutal and where terrorist threats are growing in number, sophistication and audacity. Obama defended his broad policy of backing up military force with diplomacy and coalition building, but this section of his speech felt short on specifics and not entirely reassuring. There seemed to be a disconnect between Obama’s combative opening and his close defending his signature refrain that “there wasn’t a liberal America or a conservative America.” He acknowledged that many saw it as “ironic” that “our politics seems more divided than ever.” But notice that he used this passage to suggest how the American debate had to change. He boasted of U.S. support of “a moderate opposition in Syria,” for instance, and said “this effort will take time.” But the conflict in Syria and U.S. ambivalence there has gone on much too long already, and the situation is growing worse.

The president’s vow to fight cyber threats inspired more confidence, and it was good to hear him speak out against torture, defend free speech, criticize the prospect of new sanctions on Iran and call for Americans to “reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims.” Obama’s speech was meant to be inspirational, with more specifics on his economic proposals to be rolled out in coming days, including a visit by the president to the University of Kansas on Thursday. Chen, the former Romney adviser, said conservative economists had focused on wage subsidies through the tax code and more aggressive worker retraining programs through public-private partnerships and apprenticeships. Obama is not just pursuing “the wrong policies,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Wednesday. “They’re the wrong priorities and growing Washington’s bureaucracy here, instead of helping to grow the economy and helping to grow opportunities for middle-class families.” “There’s a better way,” he said. “We need to fix our broken tax code, balance our budget, replace the broken health care law with solutions that lower cost and protect jobs.”

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