Reaction to Obama’s Second Inauguration

Just a quick post on my thoughts on President Obama’s second inaugural address.

Like many liberals, I enjoyed the President’s speech a lot. I loved hearing Obama explicitly say he wants to take on climate change. I loved the explicit comment on LGBT couples and equal rights. I loved the focus on economic inequality and the need to promote free, fair markets.

President Obama is sworn in as President of the United States.

President Obama is sworn in as President of the United States.

In the end though, the speech did not say much new and it doesn’t change the congressional obstruction the President faces. Republicans aren’t going to agree to cap-and-trade because Obama mentioned climate change in his inaugural address (see his 2009 inaugural address). So, the only thing I’m left with in the end is that the speech doesn’t matter.

How many of the President’s speeches have truly mattered? The bully pulpit is a lot less powerful than people think, especially when you’re facing an opponent (the Tea Party) who won’t be swayed by changes in public opinion. The more Obama promotes ideas the Tea Party doesn’t agree with (even if the public supports those ideas), the more Tea Party Congressmen will attempt to block all legislation. The only thing that works against such an opponent is leverage, as seen in the final fiscal cliff deal and the House Republican’s new willingness to pass a three-month debt ceiling increase.

On the opposite side, liberals were certainly happy with the ideas and values the President outlined. Hearing those ideas in such an important, public address reignites hope they will become the major accomplishments of Obama’s second term. But the political realities are the same and no speech is going to change anything. If anything, it’s only going to anger Republicans more and increase their obstructionism. Thinking of this speech as a major turning point in Obama’s time in office or the moment where Republicans will finally come around to working with the President is naive. Obstructionism will reign once again. In just a few short months, Democrats and Republicans will be bickering over a new continuing resolution to fund the government and we will risk a government shutdown. That was true yesterday and it’s true today. It’s true tomorrow as well and no speech is going to change that. (Image via)

 

The Debt Ceiling is Terrifying

I recently finished reading Robert Draper’s book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do, on the 112th Congress, focusing on the House of Representatives. Here’s a quick excerpt from a meeting with Joe Biden and Eric Cantor during the 2011 debt ceiling fight:

“Well, we’re giving you the vote on the debt ceiling,” said Cantor. “You may not think it’s a big deal. But you’ve got to understand, I’ve got a lot of guys who think that not raising the debt ceiling wouldn’t be such a bad thing – that in fact it’s just what we need.”

The Democrats weren’t sure what to say

Cantor added, somewhat abashedly: “We’re working hard to educate our guys.”

Here’s another passage about the debt ceiling:

Still, the disconnect between what Boehner himself had termed fiscal “Armageddon” and the bullheadedness of the tea partiers unnerved members like Jo Ann Emerson. She sidled up to one of the freshman one day and said, “I need you to explain why you don’t think there’s anything wrong with us defaulting on the debt. I can’t have this conversation with my constituents because I’ll yell at them and they’ll yell at me. So you tell me.”

The freshman’s reply bewildered Emerson. “We’ve spent way too much money,” he told her. “If this is price we pay, so be it.”

Emerson wanted to reply: You asshole! Do you really not understand what could happen?

Some House Republicans are entirely satisfied with defaulting on our debts. Now in January, the 113th Congress begins which is a bit more liberal than the previous one. But that leaves Boehner, presuming he keeps his Speakership, with three basic options:

1. Bring up a vote to raise the debt ceiling no-strings-attached. This would earn near unanimous support from Democrats and the Speaker could lose almost all of his party and still have the bill pass. It would also provoke massive blowback from the Right and jeopardize his power in the party.

2. Bring up a vote to raise the debt ceiling with very conservative strings-attached. This would earn very little support from Democrats and the Speaker would have to ensure that every Republican voted in favor of the bill. To that, it would have to be a very conservative bill. That means it will be DOA in the Senate. Boehner would, however, solidify his Speakership.

3. Bring up a vote to raise the debt ceiling with moderate strings-attached. This could earn moderate support from Democrats and the Speaker could lose some of his party and still have the bill pass. The bill would also likely pass the Senate. However, this would also provoke massive blowback from the Right.

The President has taken the stance that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. Obama does not want to create a precedent for the minority party to use the debt ceiling as a hostage to enact concessions from the majority. I believe he will stick by this.

That’s going to make this very scary though. It means that either Boehner choose Option 1 above and risks his Speakership or puts together a bill (possibly with the help of Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid) that raises the debt-ceiling with moderate strings-attached. He’ll risk huge criticism from his base and still have to keep much of his caucus in line while working with Pelosi and Reid. At the same time, the President will refuse to even take his calls.

Otherwise, we default.

It helps that Boehner will likely keep his Speakership when the House votes on January 3rd. But he still has to whip votes for any bill and that’s very difficult to do with the current makeup of House Republicans, as seen by the failure of his Plan B. And this time, there’s no cheap tricks such as a Super Committee and Sequester to get a deal. It’s a very scary proposition.

 

EXTEND THE PAYROLL TAX CUT!

The last time I wrote an article asking for the President to extend the payroll tax cuts I didn’t use all caps in my title. So here’s try #2. I’m also angrier this time.

Here’s the President today talking about a potential deal on the Fiscal Cliff:


Here are the two lines that stuck out (and infuriated me):

Every American’s paycheck will get considerably smaller.

And:

The housing market is recovering, but that could be impacted if folks are seeing smaller paychecks.

Guess what is immediately going to hit the middle class the hardest?

The expiration  of the payroll tax cut.

I’ve supported the President against other liberals in his desire to compromise, but he never mentions the payroll tax cut. The Bush Tax Cuts don’t have an effect for months – until tax filing season. The sequester happens slowly over time. We won’t hit the debt ceiling for another month. But the end of the payroll tax cut is going to hit middle class families right away. That’s what’s going to hurt their paychecks.

The President is saying that he wants to avoid decreasing every American’s paycheck. He’s demanding just a small deal and at worst, just an extension of the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 and an extension of unemployment benefits. That’s what Obama is saying Congress needs to do to prevent every American’s paycheck from taking a hit.

He’s wrong. That still leaves a big weekly hole in every American’s paycheck as the payroll tax rises from 4.2% to 6.2%.

Matt Yglesias mentioned this in a post today as well. The parts of the fiscal cliff that have the worst immediate consequences aren’t even being mentioned.

It’s a major political failure. But it’s also a media failure? Hello MSM, where have you been? Do most Americans even know that the payroll tax is going up?

The entire thing is infuriating, but nothing is going to change in the next few days so I might as well get used to it.