State of the Union: Obama’s Robin Hood turn

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Free college, and other education issues Obama will push at the State of the Union.

Eight years after the start of the global banking crisis, Barack Obama on Tuesday will seek to reset America’s financial priorities in a State of the Union address aimed at suggesting ways to make the benefits of the recovery more evenly spread across society. While presidents have long relied on poll-tested lines, those zingers that are guaranteed to garner instant approval from a majority of viewers, their ideas also need to reflect longer-term societal trends.

Dan Pfeiffer, the senior White House adviser, did the round of Sunday television talk shows to lay the ground for a speech he said could be boiled down to just three words: “middle-class economics”. An unnamed “senior administration official” told CNN that the proposal has “clear congressional bipartisan support.” The official probably did not want to be identified to avoid being laughed out of every bar and dining room in Washington.

Obama promised Senate Democrats last week he will stay on offense and issue new executive actions to advance his goals. (Washington Post) — Obama will use his address “to effectively declare victory over the economic hard times that dominated his first six years in office and advocate using the nation’s healthier finances to tackle long-deferred issues like education and income inequality. … Obama may also touch upon universal preschool and the thorny issue of fixing the law known as No Child Left Behind, if education secretary Arne Duncan’s speech last week and Obama’s recently released tax proposals are indications of what’s to come. But White House officials acknowledge that persuading the Republican-controlled House and Senate to vote for increasing capital gains tax on the rich will be an uphill struggle, and they are looking to focus on areas where they stand a better chance of finding bipartisan consensus. “There are elements of our plan that Republicans have supported in the past,” said Obama’s senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, in a warmup appearance before the speech on CBS. “Our higher education tax breaks are something very similar to something the Republican House passed last year. He told CBS the president would concentrate on “how we make paychecks go further right now, how we create more good-paying jobs right now, and how we give people the skills to get those high-paying jobs”.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan — who was apparently happy to be named – declared the tax proposal not serious. “We lift families up and grow the economy with a simpler, flatter tax code, not big tax increases to pay for more Washington spending,” Buck told CNN. Ryan’s mouthpiece makes it sound as though the billions of new tax dollars the president’s plan would bring in over the next 10 years would all be spent on buying McMansions for welfare queens and Cadillacs for park rangers. Obama hopes to pivot finally from the politics of adversity and austerity that have frustrated him for much of his tenure.” White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “Republicans now have a Chicken Little problem — all the doom and gloom they predicted did not come to pass.” (New York Times) — Obama’s tax plan, released Saturday, would raise $320 billion in new revenue over 10 years.

US schools are increasingly implementing online learning tools in the classroom, and outsourcing databases that keep track of everything from attendance to free lunch eligibility. Actually, most of the money would go to a $500 tax credit for married couples who are both employed, an increase in the tax credit for child care and consolidation of education tax provisions. It would raise capital gains and dividend tax rates to 28 percent for couples who earn more than $500,000 a year, impose a fee on liabilities of about 100 large financial institutions and increase the amount of inherited wealth subject to taxes. Right now, it’s mostly schools’ or school districts’ responsibility to make sure that students’ data is being kept private, and not used for advertising or other uses in the future.

Obama wants to adopt federal measures based on a California law that puts that onus on the education technology companies, rather than on the schools. Much of Obama’s challenge in the speech therefore lies in simultaneously convincing wealthier Americans that the recovery is solid enough to warrant a more redistributive approach, while convincing them that helping those on lower incomes climb the ladder is in the American tradition. “Over the last six years we have been weighed down by the legacy of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” argued the president’s preview address. “Last year was the best job growth since the 1990s, the unemployment rate has [dropped to] 5.6%, we have seen manufacturing come back, we have cut our deficit, gas prices have dropped and so we are well positioned for the future. “Over the next two years we have the opportunity to not simply continue the momentum that was built last year but to really capitalise on some of the long-term trends that make America best positioned to take advantage of the 21st century,” he added. Call him crazy, but Obama thinks it would be good to give a little help to the middle class and working poor by capturing a bit more of the enormous wealth being generated on Wall Street and sending it their way.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 50 percent of adults and 47 percent of registered voters approve of his job performance, while 44 percent of adults and 48 percent of RVs disapprove. A pre-released list of presidential invites to the first lady’s box includes a number of guests who suggest the president aims to use recent controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York to refocus the debates about both policing and gun violence. In addition to upping the top capital gains rate to 28%, he would close the “trust fund loophole” that allows securities to go untaxed at the time they are inherited.

On the economy, Obama’s approval rating is back to even. (Washington Post) Last time Obama’s approval rating evened out in the WaPo/ABC poll: Sept. 17, 2013 [pdf]. This focus on security for all will be highlighted by a 13-year-old boy from Chicago whose letter to Santa caught White House attention by saying “I just wanna be safe”. A total of 2.95 million jobs were added in 2014, leading to an unemployment rate below 6 percent and undercutting Republican attempts to paint Obama as a job killer.

— European leaders will debate new travel requirements aimed at tracking terrorists in the wake of this month’s attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Previous attempts under Obama’s presidency to pull off such redistributive measures have been rebuffed by the legislature, even before the Republicans took the reins of both houses of Congress as they did this month. There is even an astronaut, Scott Kelly, who is about to spend a year on the International Space Station in preparation for Obama’s somewhat dormant goal of helping Nasa prepare for a manned mission to Mars.

But even invoking the name of the GOP’s sainted leader is not likely to get Republicans to do the one thing they all are eternally pledged not to do: raise a tax. The strike also killed several Hezbollah fighters, who were said to be planning an attack on Israelis in the Golan Heights, according to Israeli intelligence. Free community college for Americans could certainly help reduce the inequality gap in the US, but it’s also worth noting that Americans who earn an associate’s degree still make less than the median weekly wage. The speech, which has seen declining television ratings in recent years, will be followed on Wednesday by a trip to Iowa, scene of much primary election focus, and an interview on YouTube.

Marco Rubio, the senator for Florida who is considering a presidential run in 2016, accused Obama on CBS of following a “20th-century outdated model. Obama has pushed for universal preschool for a while as the way to curb inequality early, and talked about it briefly during a speech at Northwestern in October: If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own. While Republicans in Congress continue to try and figure out a way to undo Obama’s executive immigration order that effectively legalizes more than four million undocumented workers, polls have tended to side with the president.

Rubio said the proposals would be counter-productive. “Raising taxes on people who are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful,” he said. “The good news about free enterprise is that everyone can succeed without punishing anyone.” But Pfeiffer said the White House was convinced common ground could be found. You would probably find more Muslims who like cartoons of Muhammad than GOP-elected officials who think the rich need to fork over more money to the federal government.

And while a strong majority polled by CNN/ORC said they believed Obama’s order had gotten it right on the issue, 56 percent said they did not approve of the means the president used to achieve his ends. 2014 was the warmest year on record, and, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, “the 20 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred in the past 20 years.” Along with thawing glaciers, there is also some evidence that doubts about whether global warming is occurring are also melting away. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has tapped three top aides to headline his 2016 campaign: Jeff Roe will play the role of chief strategist, Jason Miller will manage messaging, and Lauren Lofstrom will direct fundraising. After reaching an agreement with China that commits the U.S. to new targets for greenhouse gas emissions, the president will likely need those numbers to continue growing. 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.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner argue that the project will result in tens of thousands of jobs for American workers, a clear majority in the Post/ABC poll, 61 percent, say that Obama should wait to hear what the State Department recommends before acting. Republican senator Lamar Alexander’s reauthorization plan calls for states to determine how to test students and proficiency, while Duncan called for national standards based on standardized tests to remain in place. Ann said she hadn’t read the documents before she signed them and denied Bill had ever been violent. (Chicago Sun-Times) The clearest signal yet that Foster intends to take a shot at Sen.

The former Massachusetts governor said that “in the post-Obama era we need to stand for safety, and for opportunity for all people, and we have to stand for helping lift people out of poverty”. Obama may dive into this debate during his speech, or he could just leave this one to Congress and Duncan to duke out, and comment once a more solidified draft of the bill has come through. Tammy Duckworth (D) says she’s taking a “serious look” at 2016. (Roll Call) — Kentucky: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) spent Martin Luther King Jr. Steve Beshear (D), is the only Democrat running to replace Conway. (Associated Press) — California: Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is telling potential supporters he would serve only one term in the Senate if he cannot achieve goals dealing with the environment and education within six years. His decision could come as soon as this week. (Sacramento Bee) Other Democrats thinking about running are eager to see how Steyer’s background as a hedge fund manager plays among the party base.

The state attorney general decided not to join a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska against Colorado, but Mead said the Justice Department is ignoring federal law by allowing Colorado to continue its experiment. (Casper Star-Tribune) — Virginia: Gov. McAuliffe broke seven ribs in a horse-riding accident in Africa over the holidays; doctors expected the injuries to heal on their own, but they admitted him to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on Monday when they didn’t heal. — Okay, about that webcast: A team of staffers has produced a set of videos, digital op-eds, Facebook and Twitter messages and Vines to target a larger audience than usual. — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will return to work today for the first time since being injured in an exercise accident at his home in Nevada over the holidays. He’s expected to address Congress, speak at the U.N. and canonize Junipero Serra, a 17th-century missionary who established nine missions in California.

Jeb Bush (R) sought information about liability insurance and cash flow from InnoVida, on whose board he sat for more than a year before another board member discovered rampant fraud that led to convictions of the firm’s top two executives. Bush had been given the option to buy 250,000 shares of company stock, but he eventually repaid $270,000 of the $469,000 he received in consulting payments.

The IMF predicts China’s economy will grow by 6.8 percent in 2015. (Reuters) — Stock futures are trading higher before the bell after the Dow tacked on 190 points to end a week-long losing streak on Friday. Evidence gathered by malware hidden inside North Korea’s computer system convinced President Obama that Kim Jong Un’s army of about 6,000 hackers was behind the Sony strike.

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