Thursday, December 23, 2010

The President at 24 months

The President held a press conference on Wednesday where he explored a lot of issues.   Presented below are my thoughts on where this president almost two years into his term.

The Deficit -He made something like this point several times "how do we cut spending that we don’t need while making investments that we do need -- investments in education, research and development, innovation, and the things that are essential to grow our economy over the long run, create jobs, and compete with every other nation in the world."  As Ezra Klein said he did not address how to find financial regulation (which seems a bit of an over-reach) and his healthcare bill (which seems a lot of an over-reach).

"I’m also disappointed we weren’t able to come together around a budget to fund our government over the long term."   Part of that problem comes from the way the existing congress acted on issues like earmarks.   Obama has said he is against but used lots of lubricant to try to woo members into supporting his approaches.

The reality of the President's first two years has been a dramatic expansion of the deficit with a lot of silly ideas (from cash for clunkers to shovel ready projects to the extensions of unemployment to almost become a sinecure).

Gay Marriage - He lauded the passage of the elimination of "don't ask, don't tell" which is a good thing.   In one statement he raised a point of view which I think defines his presidency as a typical Chicago ward healer - Describing his continuing support of civil unions he left the door open to move further to the left in saying "But I recognize that from their (gays that he works with or knows) perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward."  There is more than a simple semantic issue here.   From my perspective the issue comes down to property issues and religious issues.  The property issues can be solved by changing the tax code (federal and state law) and inheritance laws (mostly state laws).  But the religious issue is one where, based on this Administration's intrusions into religious life, I am not at all confident that he would accept religious institutions being able to continue their traditions.   This is a fundamental issue about the appropriate reach of the state.

This is a social issue that affects a portion of the population but where that group has conscientiously attempted to modify common understandings of tradition and law.  Does anyone really care if gays live together - of course not.   Do most Americans support the extension of property rights that are common in marriage to gays - of course.   Can American churches perform religious rights which solemnize the committed relationships between to gay people - absolutely.   But should that be extended to require some groups to recognize relationships that are fundamentally in conflict with religious doctrine?  That is where I think the effort is a bit of an over-reach.

Bipartisanship - About the tax cut bill he said "In the last few weeks, we also came together across party lines to pass a package of tax cuts and unemployment insurance that will spur jobs, businesses, and growth."   The entire bill will not spur jobs.   Based on the record of his other stimulus packages the record on job growth is not good.  But those are philosophical differences.   

Earlier in the year, the President feigned bipartisanship and then forced through a dramatic increase in governmental authority on health issues.   I am hopeful that the bill will be reduced in scope both as a result of the constitutional challenge but also by pruning the monstrosity.   In the next congress he will have to be able to demonstrate that he understands something more about bipartisanship than using it when it is handy.

The Dream Act - The President expressed disappointment about the failure of the Dream Act to pass.  I agree with his position on this measure but as I said a couple of days ago, I think the issue could wait. From my perspective, if the GOP is smart they should allow this idea to become law.

Here is an area where he could work on a bipartisan approach.  But I suspect he will use this as a wedge issue rather than in trying to solve the legitimate problems raised by the Dream Act.

An implicit understanding of lame ducks - The President has a very different understanding of lame ducks than I do.  The 20th Amendment moved the convening of congress back to January to reduce the possibility that people who had been voted out of office would have the chance to make serious law.  And in this congress that principle was violated.  The food safety bill is a good example.   I would have preferred to have the Administration fight a bit harder to eliminate the earmarks and other gimmicks in the Continuing Resolution.

Finally, tax issues - The President continues to push the nonsense about millionaires escaping taxes.  If he is smart he will go back to 1986 and review how President Reagan was able to cobble together a bill which lowered rates for everyone and simplified the tax code.  Class bashing may rev up the base but it does little for improving policy and most voters understand that you do not improve the economy by taking more from a target group.

I was asked a few days ago whether I thought Obama would be re-elected.  I responded that depends on a lot of things we cannot see right now.  Does the GOP have a credible candidate? (at this point no)  Does unemployment fall dramatically? (at this point it does not look like that)  On the current course will the deficit problem begin to be solved?  (It does not look like it)   So the simple answer is - who knows?  But that kind of speculation is better when we know more about all three questions as well as whether the GOP leadership in the House is adroit in raising the issues that brought them their majority.

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