What midterms? Obama treats State of the Union as a victory lap. (+video)

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Behind the pantomime.

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington.(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AP) This president has governed through crisis after crisis — successfully, I might add — despite unrelenting attacks from a Republican Party that has grown dramatically more radical during his six years in office. The speech, in which President Obama laid out an agenda topped by free community college and tax breaks for parents and the middle class, was a consummate display of political bravado. But like many Republicans, some financial analysts question whether the president deserves credit for ending the Great Recession, as well as the potential worth of his proposals. But middle-class savers are bound to notice if he achieves two of the White House’s stated goals—to “roll back” tax benefits of 529 college savings plans and “repeal tax incentives going forward” for Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. He said that “the shadow of crisis has passed.” Earlier that day Iranian-backed rebels stormed the compound of the president of Yemen, an American ally.

Lynn Jenkins (R., Kan.) is expected to unveil Thursday the Republican counterpart to President Barack Obama’s proposal on 529 college-saving accounts. 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 opened his speech on Tuesday claiming America was ready to “turn the page” from the economic downturn, and he called on Congress to embrace policies embodying “middle-class economics” to close the gap between rich and poor. Both plans allow parents, grandparents or anyone looking to help fund a kid’s education to contribute after-tax dollars into accounts that grow tax-free.

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 most ambitious of these proposals would raise taxes on the rich by $320 billion over the next 10 years, allowing for $175 billion in middle-class tax cuts and providing funding for Obama’s proposals, which include free two-year community college tuition. “That means helping folks afford child care, 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,” Obama said during his speech.

There is also no tax when the money is withdrawn, provided it is used for qualified educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, room and board. Obama referred to a year ago as the “jayvee team,” now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq—leading the president to ask for congressional authorization to use force against it.

Democrats and Republicans—including the White House and those in Congress and the emerging 2016 presidential field—have begun to coalesce around the idea that a lagging middle class is the major blemish on a recovery so far defined by a rising stock market, a falling unemployment rate and overall economic growth. While there are differences between, and even within, the parties over policy prescriptions, there is no dispute over what aspect of the economy will take focus. It was almost as if the Republicans’ crushing victory in last November’s midterm elections – a sharp repudiation of Obama and the Democrats – never happened. And in a remarkable piece of political showmanship, Obama by turns yearned for “a better politics” of bipartisan cooperation even as he promised sharp contrasts with his Republican foes through vetoes and executive action. “At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious, that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” Obama said, reviewing the course of his presidency to date. “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.

News, “I’m keeping my expectations in check.” “It’s important for us in the minority party who care about things like child care, maternity leave or raising the minimum wage … that we lay down our markers now, build out support and perfect these ideas,” the California Democrat says. Obama has also proposed mandatory paid sick leave and time off for parents with a new child. “I know there are Republicans who disagree with my approach,” Mr. It’s true that campaigning and governing are wholly different exercises, but I don’t believe the president is good at one at the expense of the other. With his job approval ratings ticking upward toward 50 percent – and reaching that benchmark in some polls – perhaps Obama can get away with that little poke in the GOP’s eye.

Takano on Monday sent a letter to Obama and Labor Secretary Tom Perez signed by 30 of his colleagues and calling for the Department of Labor to raise the income threshold for overtime pay to $69,000 – a hike from the current threshold of $23,660. 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.

While two million more Americans are on payrolls today than in December 2007 when the recession began, there are 14 million more people not in the workforce as the nation’s population grew faster than the pool of available jobs. Obama’s tax-raising proposals are non-starters, GOP leaders have said they are open to overhauling the tax code as long as it doesn’t raise net taxes. Practically speaking, both sides are right where they were before the address – suiting up for combat on issues where they disagree, and prepared to work together in the few areas where they agree, such as international trade and prison sentencing reform. “Finding common ground is what the American people sent us here to do, but you wouldn’t know it from the president’s speech tonight,” Speaker Boehner said in a statement. “While veto threats and unserious proposals may make for good political theater, they will not distract this new American Congress from our focus on the people’s priorities.” The official Republican response to the address, delivered by the newly installed Sen. Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa, also struck a populist note as she described her humble roots and her party’s desire to help “hardworking families.” But it was both Obama’s and Senator Ernst’s treatment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that perhaps best telegraphed the politics of the next two years: Obama didn’t even dignify the proposed project – which would deliver Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico and which environmentalists oppose – by using its name. 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.

President Obama takes credit for lower oil prices, but conveniently does not mention the role played by shale oil production, which would not play well with his “green” constituency. The Investment Company Institute, trade group for the mutual-fund industry, says that in 2013 households saving for college through 529 plans, Coverdell ESAs, or mutual funds held outside these accounts tended to be headed by people younger than 45.

Problems remain, however, including slow wage growth and a labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent, meaning fewer Americans are seeking jobs that at any point since 1978. 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.

He brags about our force reduction in Iraq and Afghanistan, without mentioning the active military role the United States continues to play in both countries. Obama’s greatest achievement during his administration has been to “sit back and allow the system to work,” says Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network.

Yet after spending more than $1 trillion on a variety of stimulus measures, unemployment was 5.6% last month—and would be 8.3% were it not for the millions who dropped out of the labor force. Martha Roby (R., Ala.) was prepared to introduce a bill on Thursday that would allow private-sector workers the option of using overtime as paid time off, rather than extra pay. 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. This has caught most conservatives off guard, since with their gains in Congress, they truly believed that the president was greatly weakened and reduced to a jellylike substance, the next best thing to impeachment.

I don’t think maternity leave meets that test,” he says. “It could make it more difficult for a young woman to get a job if employers know they could incur that liability and costs that come with it.” His lecture to Congress about civility and bipartisanship would have been convincing had he not governed in an unusually ruthless, hyperpartisan way for six years.

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? 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.

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. Rather than consider any views other than his own, the “outgunned but combative” president is advised to “resist his instinct to follow the false promise of compromise” so as not “to confuse the voters as to where the responsibility lies.” 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.

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