State of the Union: Obama sets terms of economic debate — even if proposals …

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Has Obama Set the Message for the 2016 Campaign?.

State of the Union address | Seeking new war powers from Congress, US president says Washington stands united with Islamabad over school terror victims WASHINGTON – In a stirring speech, US President Barack Obama has vowed to doggedly hunt down terrorists from “Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” as he called on Congress to approve new war powers against the Islamic State. “We stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” Obama said in the annual State of the Union address, his sixth, to a joint session of Congress. “We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies,” said Obama. The union, for example, is almost always “strong” (only in 1975 did Gerald Ford break this, saying that things were “not good”); the president’s party always cheers him; the other party does not. In the midst of a speech in which he touted the improving economy and made clear his continued willingness to act on his own, Obama repeated a line that highlighted the approaching end of his White House tenure. “I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama told the assemblage in the House chamber – notably a Congress that includes more Republicans than it has since the Hoover administration.

Obama, whose approval rating is climbing back to 50 percent in latest polls mainly on account of successful economic recovery, emphasised that in recent years a smart American leadership, through alliances and a combination of military and diplomatic prowess, is making a difference in the world. ”Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honoured our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition. “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America,” he added. Before he could get to his next line – that his only agenda is to do what he thinks is “best for America” – a smattering of Republicans applauded, presumably at the reminder that they would only have Obama for two more years. It was clear even before Mr Obama made the short trip up to Capitol Hill that the proposals at the heart of his speech – to raise taxation levels on the wealthiest Americans and impose new fees on the biggest financial institutions to help out the middle class – would be a non-starter with the Republicans and would never, ever become law. I still think the cynics are wrong.” But he offered Republicans few clearly marked places to find common ground in an expansive wish list that included tax increases on the wealthy, an increase in the minimum wage, more federal spending on child care and stepped-up action to halt climate change. “Do [Republicans] think … we should be ensuring that millionaires and billionaires are getting special, preferential tax benefits … [or] that more middle-class families should have the opportunity to go to college?” White House spokesman Josh Earnest asked on CNN. “That’s really the question.” When he entered the White House in 2009, Obama preached a gauzy gospel of post-partisan cooperation.

We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he said. He spent months asking Republicans to join him in drafting an economic stimulus plan and a complex healthcare law, and made several tries at negotiating a “grand bargain” on fiscal policy, in 2011 and again in 2013. Perhaps they thought they would see a man, finally, with his tail metaphorically between his legs, pleading for a legislative bone for them to throw so he could claim some kind of agenda success in his last two years in office. In view of the recent hacking into the network of Sony Pictures, Obama said, “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. ”As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit. ”As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. ”We need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks,” he said. “Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he said. I get it.”) In 2010, he said the country had just finished “a difficult year,” again apologized for the bank bailout (“I hated it; you hated it”) and sounded defensive when discussing Obamacare (“I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.”) In 2011, he tentatively began declaring economic victory: “These steps we’ve taken over the last 2 years may have broken the back of this recession.” But he still spent much of the speech on the GOP’s turf: pledging to “freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years” and accept “painful … cuts to things I care deeply about.” In 2012, just in time for his reelection campaign, Obama stopped apologizing for the economy and the deficit and began bashing those unnamed opponents, like Mitt Romney, whose bad ideas, he argued, had created the mess in the first place.

The US president also warned Congress in the address that any move to impose new sanctions on Iran could undermine negotiations aimed at reaching a complex nuclear deal. “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear programme and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Now, after the 2014 election placed both houses of Congress under GOP control, Obama appears to have concluded that his chances of success as a deal maker have all but evaporated. In 2013 he finally began to crow, but tentatively, admitting that “Our economy is adding jobs but too many people still can’t find full-time employment … for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.” In 2014 he grew bolder, but still focused his optimism on what America was about to achieve (“I believe this can be a breakthrough year”) than what it already had.

With unemployment falling, a smaller deficit and cheaper fuel, he concluded that “we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.” Pointing to increasing graduation rates, he argued that his government is doing its bit to “prepare our kids for a more competitive world”. He started out by detailing what he called “a breakthrough year” for the nation, one in which unemployment reached its lowest rate since before the Great Recession, more people got health insurance and, the president asserted, the nation loosened its attachment to foreign oil. The stretching of the rubber band between the super-rich and the rest of us was highlighted in this week’s Oxfam report which claimed that, if current trends continue globally, the 1pc will own more wealth than the 99pc by next year.

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 refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. Instead of being dismissed as a powerless lame duck, he’s been criticized as a power-mad autocrat — which, as Machiavelli was among the first to note, is far preferable. But he didn’t yet claim the strategy had been a success. “There will be,” he admitted, “difficult days ahead.” In 2011, Obama began to sound more optimistic: “Al-Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” On his way to Davos, the former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers unpacked one statistical nugget in a column for the ‘Financial Times’ that gave some perspective on the problem. “If the US had the same income distribution it had in 1979,” he wrote, “the bottom 80pc of the population would have $1trn – or $11,000 per family – more. He ordered major changes in immigration policy, dared Congress to overturn them and announced that he’d veto the bill if they did — one of four vetoes he threatened in Tuesday’s speech.

And he promised to finalize controversial regulations to slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of climate-changing greenhouse gases. “He’s not for much of anything the American people voted for last November,” the pragmatic Senate majority leader complained Tuesday, before Obama spoke. “Hopefully that’s just rhetoric … and we’ll still look for things that we can actually agree on.” But even optimists on Capitol Hill are confining their bipartisan ambitions to secondary issues: a cybersecurity bill, authority for Obama to conclude trade agreements and, maybe, if things go unexpectedly well, a new corporate tax law. Mr Obama’s only reference to his party’s crushing defeat in November’s mid-term elections was his promise that if Congress passes a bill to undermine his health-care reform, loosen financial regulation or tighten the screws on immigrants, “it will have earned my veto.” Few, if any, of Mr Obama’s proposals seem likely to become law. His tax plan, for example, involves hiking capital-gains tax on the highest earners, slapping a new levy on big banks and closing a loophole which allows capital-gains tax to be avoided when the owner of an asset dies. Closing this loophole ought to be popular, since it benefits only the rich (see chart; most family homes, the main middle-class assets, are not subject to capital-gains tax).

He’ll veto them, he warned, specifically mentioning the Keystone XL pipeline project backers say would bring jobs but which critics worry would damage the environment. Another Democratic President said the same in his address in 1952. “I think everybody knows that social insurance and better schools and health services are not frills, but necessities in helping all Americans to be useful and productive citizens.” That was Harry Truman. (© Independent News Service)

And Obama – who already took executive action extending legal status to millions of immigrants in the country illegally and has moved to normalize relations with Cuba – made it clear that when Congress won’t work with him, he’ll go it alone. “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts,” Obama said, referring to executive actions he has taken to address climate change. Despite Obama’s bravado, much of what he will be doing in the next two years is actually defensive: fending off Republican assaults on his healthcare law, his immigration orders, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and his coal emission regulations.

That stunned Republicans, who say they cannot figure out which man was in front of them – the one who wants to sign a peace pact with Congress or the one who will use his pen to veto or advance, through executive order, items all by himself. He called for paid sick leave for 43m people who do not get any, free community college for qualified students, and more investment in infrastructure. The lawmaker wonders why Obama would come in with the swagger of a man whose party had won, and not lost, key November contests. “He didn’t even try,” adds Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., calling the speech a series of campaign talking points instead of items on which both parties might actually find a compromise. “He really missed so many opportunities, and it’s a shame.” House Speaker John Boehner volleyed back – hard – the next day with the disclosure that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

He asked both parties to give him the authority to strike trade deals with Asia and Europe; an idea which Republicans are much keener on than Democrats. He clearly hoped that by this point in his presidency he’d be taking a victory lap not only for the recession he overcame but for the wars he brought to a close. Ernst said Republicans will “propose ideas that aim to cut wasteful spending.” They want meaningful reforms, she said, “but not higher taxes like the President has proposed.” Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, responded on Facebook. “We need to create economic opportunity for every American,” he said, “especially middle class families and those trying to rise out of poverty.” Mr.

Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says he was impressed by Obama’s “cri de coeur,” and the unusual step the president took of spending a long stretch of time addressing only the people in that room, and not the nation as a whole. He seems to be gambling that while Republicans in Congress will obstruct him, he can talk over them—and perhaps force them to adopt some of his ideas or else be seen fighting to protect the perks of the wealthy. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” asked Mr Obama, daring the Republicans to say yes.

The modern state-of-the-union speech evolved as a way to boost the president: Woodrow Wilson began the tradition of delivering it in person; Lyndon Johnson had it televised at prime time in 1965. Obama’s appeal for comity was met with silence by the GOP side of the chamber, and Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College, says the dynamic is not likely to change.

The idea that a strong leader, like Lyndon Johnson, can move Congress by sheer force of personality is a “myth,” Nyhan says, noting that LBJ had a congressional makeup Obama does not enjoy. He said lawmakers need to pass, “common-sense solutions that will help expand opportunities for middle-class families and small businesses.” Americans will not pick the next president for almost two years. A big effort to reach new viewers on the internet seems unlikely to have made up for this. (After Mr Obama’s speech, he allowed himself to be interviewed by three YouTube bloggers, including one famous for trying to swallow a ladleful of ground cinnamon.) More likely, his speech will be forgotten: much like Bill Clinton’s call in 1999 for the federal surplus—remember that?—to be used to shore up Social Security (public pensions).

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