Their View: State of the union remains gridlock
‘Tonight, We Turn The Page': Obama Lays Out 2015 Agenda.
President Barack Obama isn’t kidding when he says the tax proposals he outlined in his State of the Union address would have an effect on inequality in the United States. The first applies to stock dividends and long-term investment gains, which are taxed at a rate of no more than 20 percent (plus a 3.8 percent surtax for very high earners), compared with as much as 39.6 percent for ordinary income. Instead, he made popular proposals that Congress is not likely to approve — free community college, a tripled child care tax credit and paid sick leave, all funded in part by raising the capital gains tax on the rich.
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. As predicted, Republican responses to the speech ranged from dismissal to anger—or rather, mock anger; since it has always been clear that Republicans would reject anything Mr Obama were to offer up, their condemnations of his failure to reach out were pantomime too.
Obama showed that he fully intends not only to maintain his relevance as president, but that he will do everything in his power to leave behind as his legacy a strengthened Democratic Party and a political narrative in which the fundamental differences between the two parties could not be clearer. Both sides seem to agree that something needs to be done about rescuing some disposable income for the under classes without which America is unlikely to ever see another real economic boom. Along the way, he cited achievements during his administration: the Affordable Care Act, which has given health insurance to an additional 10 million Americans; the surge in new jobs; the drop in the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent and, more disputably, U.S. successes in fighting terrorism around the world. When you get done going to junior college for nothing, and you still can’t get a job, you’ll love my new Robin Hood tax plan — take from the rich and give to the poor.
Obama left Washington for a two-day trip to Idaho and Kansas to push his message that everyone should stand to gain from an economy that has all but recovered from years in the doldrums. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, inadvertently captured the circular logic of the situation: “For him, it’s all 2016 partisan politics now, and Republicans shouldn’t waste time debating the merits of the president’s political talking points.” Of course, if Republicans are unwilling to debate the merits of Mr Obama’s proposals, one can hardly expect him to deliver anything other than political talking points. The candidate who once ran on the notion of a post-partisan America said to the American people Tuesday night — in a manner as clearly as perhaps he’s ever done — that there is no fuzzy middle ground where Americans can congregate.
Anyway, in this White House we don’t call people “poor,” we call them “middle class.” Our policies are all about “middle class economics.” I’m also going to raise the minimum wage. The benefits accrued almost entirely to the rich: They boosted the after-tax income of the top 1 percent by more than 6 percent and had an almost negligible effect on the lowest-earning 40 percent of U.S. households. In its Jan. 20 issue, the Post-Gazette may have set the stage by publishing a report on Page A-4, “Richest 1% May Dominate Wealth by ’16,” and on its Perspectives page, “Soak the Rich?” by Paula Dwyer.
Not the largest growth of terrorism and chaos the Middle East has ever seen, but the previously unacknowledged, and already way beyond our capacity to deal with future of environmental collapse. Tax proposals that would boost middle-class families were in the president’s speech; so were calls for a new approach to immigration and a push for free education at community colleges. Maybe Obama would like to resurrect the Kyoto protocol, fight conservative business interests in the US over carbon footprints and the end of seed monopoly and agriculture lobby? More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.
The president repeatedly touted “middle-class economics,” and he invoked the story of one young family that struggled to make ends meet during the worst of the economic crisis to say Americans have rebounded. Wages have failed to rise, manufacturing isn’t what it used to be and two spouses must work these days to provide what one brought home in the past.
To a crowd of more than 6,000 in a stadium at Boise State University, Obama continued to chide Republicans and noted that their limited applause during his speech on Tuesday made clear that they did not back his ideas. “I know there are Republicans who disagree with my approach. The thrust of the news article is that the wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population already controls 48 percent of the planet’s wealth and that percentage is increasing. I could see that from their body language yesterday,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “My job is to put forward what I think is best for America.
Obama’s strongest foreign achievement in 2014 has been to normalise relations with Cuba, though, congressional Republicans remain a thorn in his side and vow opposition. Well, I was going to, but Malia and Sasha were having one of those teenage sulks — you folks know how that goes — so I didn’t have anybody to help me open the PDF from NSA, which wouldn’t down-load on Microsoft Word because. . . Obama would increase the top capital-gains rate only to 28 percent and would require heirs to pay tax only on investment gains exceeding $200,000 per couple. One would have to believe that breaching the wall between facts and commentary would encourage politicians and pundits alike to reach for more amelioratory phraseology before launching attacks on others’ proposals.
So far this year, Obama has stiffed the GOP agenda.”) Those of us sick of all this talk of empathetic nods and inches given or stiffed would prefer to find some way to talk about the content of governance. In a world in which everyone started with nothing and spent all their savings over their lifetimes, critics of the idea would be right to protest: Taxing wealth would probably inhibit the investment needed for the economy to grow. The Congress is eager to destroy any nuclear deal Obama might reach with Iran, and for some reason, Obama is resisting the demands of the lawmakers even when a deal seems elusive. 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.
Barring a miracle, Mr Obama’s proposal to raise capital gains and inheritance taxes, which chiefly affect the rich, while lowering income taxes on the middle class will not be adopted by the current Congress. But some early reactions to President Obama’s speech are focusing on whether his message against cynicism and his touting of economic, foreign and domestic gains was a bit too cheery to match America’s mood. Obama pledged to veto Republican efforts to overturn his signature healthcare law, executive action loosening rules for undocumented immigrants, and efforts to force the White House to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
But one can look at its political reception to gauge whether this is an issue that effectively advances the Democrats’ attempts to force Republicans to take unpopular stances. Republicans called for Obama to be more humble, given that they took control of both chambers of Congress this month after winning the midterms handsomely. “We’ve only been here 2-1/2 weeks, and he’s put seven veto threats. If so, it will be more likely to play a role in the party’s profiling over the next two years, as it readies its stance for the 2016 presidential elections. While Obama claimed the US-led coalition is “stopping [the Islamic State’s] advance” in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon officials said that Isis is gaining territory in Syria, while it consolidates its uncontested control of major Iraqi cities like Mosul and Fallujah. Since the only hope of getting significant legislation passed in America now seems to be winning an electoral trifecta and gaining control over the presidency and both houses of Congress, the first key question to ask about any proposed legislation is whether it furthers that goal for the party that proposed it.
Let us work the legislation before you decide something’s going to be vetoed,” House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the CBS “This Morning” program. Ernst also recounted details of her own life, from her days of working on a farm and on a “biscuit line” to the hard work done by her parents and grandparents. Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward? Because the details of the proposal will be unrecognisably altered by the time it makes it into whatever legislation is adopted three years down the line (provided the side proposing it wins that trifecta), it is a good idea not to get too wrapped up in specifics.
He called in his speech for Congress to give him so-called fast-track authority to help complete major trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal being negotiated with Asia. “The president made very clear last night that TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) and TPP is now a top presidential priority and now is the time to get it done,” said Evan Medeiros, the top White House aide on Asia. While she didn’t shy away from criticizing President Obama’s policies, she added, “with a little cooperation from the President, we can get Washington working again.” There’s no shortage of conservative rebuttals to the president’s address.
While some conservative Republicans oppose giving Obama fast-track authority, the heaviest resistance might be from fellow Democrats who worry that trade deals could hurt American workers. [ID:nL1N0V02XG] Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Wednesday that after recent talks with Republicans he was confident a business tax reform plan can make it through Congress. Lew put the chances of passage at “better than 50-50.” In Idaho, Obama visited a lab at the university’s Micron Engineering Center, telling students and staff that he was good at engineering despite not having studied it.
For example, is the Earned Income Tax Credit still the best way to address inequality, or does it fail to reach the poorest because they are unemployed? Hillary Clinton, the likely frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, is already facing heat from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and others on the left, who worry Clinton may bow to pressure from Wall Street and not push enough of a populist agenda on the economy.
The key, though, is to look at policy proposals not in isolation, but as moves in a long game that gradually determine the shape of policy proposals on each side. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.” “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,” President Obama says.
He says that America must reject stereotypes of Muslims, defend free speech and “condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.” He goes on to say he is determined to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, noting that it costs $3 million per prisoner to house them. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.” Addressing claims by critics who say they’re not scientists, Obama says, “I’m not a scientist, either.
But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA,” and elsewhere. “I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyberattacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information,” Obama says. “Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters,” the president says. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.” “This effort will take time,” the president says of helping people stand up to violent extremists. “It will require focus. Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night. “It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.” America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story.
But it’s a pantomime of actions and attitudes that are real, or may eventually become real if one side amasses the power to push legislation through America’s hopelessly creaky, antiquated, broke-down political system. 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.” Obama notes that the U.S. has moved forward with a plan to “send American astronauts to Mars. You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation. In that case there probably isn’t much point paying attention to American democratic politics at all, and I recommend switching to a good hockey match.
Alan, you’ll be glad to know that my administration realizes what a great nation Cuba is, and we’re doing everything we can to show the Cuban government that we respect their executive, legislative and judicial legitimacy. Saying that Congress shouldn’t try “unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration,” Obama says, “if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.” President Obama lists more strides the country has made, drawing applause for more than 11 million new jobs; reducing foreign oil dependency; lower gasoline prices; “the highest math and reading scores on record” for young students.
Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices. 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 fifty years.
Obama will also mention the hacking attacks that have hit Sony and other U.S. companies, in a portion of the speech that pushes for new legislation regarding cybersecurity and privacy. Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead.
We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year. During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare.
It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest. But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.
Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics. Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education. We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs. But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come. 21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.
That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair. Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world. I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay.
Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.
Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored 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. 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. 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.
As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.” These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba. 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 program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.
In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief. And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.
It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws – of which there are many – but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it. I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London.
I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.
A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives. We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.
Because I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.
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