Terror threat taking back seat in State of the Union?

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Speech Likely to Rile Congressional Republicans.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama aims in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to outline his plans to help middle class people left behind by the economic recovery through tax increases on the most wealthy and by signing trade deals to expand markets for American goods and services.

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. What they haven’t heard much of is how the administration is adapting to a changing terror threat — a sprouting hydra rearing its many heads across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and even cyberspace. 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. But increasingly, security threats are overshadowing the domestic agenda Obama aims to pursue during his final two years in office, upping pressure on the president to explain how he’ll confront them. Public surveys show he is riding a new wave of popularity – with a 50 percent approval rating, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll – as the U.S. economy continues its surge.

At least with this particular set of proposals, Obama has accepted a fundamentally Republican idea: that the way to help people is through the tax code. Obama has said he wants to reach out to Republicans who support trade deals with Asia and Europe that his administration has pursued, over the objections of some of his fellow Democrats.

Many voters, though hardly all, approve of his recent normalization of relations with Cuba and efforts to allow illegal immigrants to stay and work in the country. Butch Otter (R) spoke of making community college more accessible and affordable, while Obama is expected to repeat his call for making it free altogether. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, said he’s concerned about the level of attention Obama is giving the issue – and particularly the strategy for confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “The problem is, we don’t exactly know what President Obama views, you know, defeat of ISIS is.

For the first time in his presidency, however, the Democratic president faces a Congress in which Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives after winning sweeping victories in the November elections. Many Republicans are seeking to overturn Obama’s Cuba and immigration policies, while continuing to oppose his signature national health care reforms. Obama will call for raising taxes on profits that individuals make from selling such assets as stocks, bonds and real estate, ending tax breaks for inherited estates worth millions of dollars, and imposing a fee on the country’s biggest financial firms. The president came out of his party’s midterm election losses with a surprising burst of activity, but there are big questions about whether he will be able to sustain that momentum in the face of opposition from the new Republican-controlled Congress.

With the group reportedly gaining territory in Syria, King urged Obama to send the message that “nothing is off the table” — including ground troops. The terror scourge surfaced again on the global stage overnight, with a video of militants threatening to behead Japanese hostages unless a $200 million ransom is paid. Meanwhile, a new crisis was flaring in Yemen where rebel fighters reportedly shelled the Yemeni president’s residence and entered the presidential palace – endangering a key U.S. ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But, by making the proposal, Obama is likely setting the stage for a major debate as the United States heads into next year’s presidential election to pick his successor.

Alan Gross, the U.S. aid worker whose release from a Cuban prison helped pave the way toward restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, will be among Michelle Obama’s guests for the speech. Nearly every Republican in Congress has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge stating that they will never, ever, ever raise taxes, and if they do may they be cast into the Lake of Fire to endure an eternity of torment and woe (at least I think that’s what the non-public version says). Those attacks, more than any other act of ideological violence in recent years, have sharpened international efforts to counter terror cells, particularly in Europe.

These include congressional approval of a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the central U.S., as well as changes to undercut the health care reform law and Wall Street financial restrictions. Which helps explain why their most passionate advocacy comes in the noble cause of cutting taxes, particularly for the wealthy, and raising some taxes in order to cut others is not something they can tolerate. The White House has taken some of the suspense away from the speech this year, sending Obama on the road during the past two weeks to roll out themes he plans to highlight, like the need to beef up cybersecurity and invest in infrastructure.

But Republicans might want to consider the possibility that the progressivity of both our tax code and the services the federal government provides actually serves the conservative vision of government quite nicely. While Barack Obama is often accused by his opponents of being a European-style socialist, the truth is that most European countries have less progressive tax systems than we do, in part because they rely on value-added taxes that are akin to sales taxes. Not only has “jobs, jobs, jobs” been the rallying cry of both parties for years – particularly after the 2008 financial collapse and recession – but Obama has enjoyed an uptick in his approval ratings lately, buoyed by improving views of the economy. They’ve been nervous about how far Obama will go to work with Republicans in areas such as tax and trade deals, and afraid that he may offer too much.

The writers often shared thoughts how their lives have improved during the country’s economic recovery, or benefited from immigration and health care policies supported by Obama. John Kitzhaber (D) referenced modern literature — Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” — to make a point about the importance of setting the terms of discourse. The second is that they are willing to not make the wealthy pay much more because they take those tax revenues and create a panoply of cash transfers and social services that have the effect of dramatically reducing inequality. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.” But Obama’s drive for military closure in Iraq was disrupted by the Islamic State’s rise over the past year.

A low-income person in Scandinavia gets health insurance, child care, paid family leave, a free or low-cost university education, and other benefits that not only make their daily lives easier but also make moving up the income ladder not the kind of Herculean task it is in America. Presidents stretching back to Ronald Reagan have invited special guests to attend the address to prominently reinforce their messages — health care recipients, service members and the like. Tuesday’s congressional guests include Cuban activists, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, and former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Its benefits are a function of income: The poor can get on Medicaid, which is free; the middle class get subsidies to help them buy private coverage; the rich don’t get help with paying for insurance.

Last year, a GOP congressman invited rocker Ted Nugent, who has referred to Obama’s administration as “evil, America-hating.” And another congressman brought Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson. An old saying has it that programs for the poor are poor programs; they’ll forever be vulnerable because their beneficiaries are those without political power.

It’s no accident that the only people who have ever suggested means-testing Social Security — making wealthy people ineligible — are Republicans.

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