Thursday, July 28, 2011

Invoke the 14th Amendment--Political Consequences Be Damned

Politico Arena Topic: Should Obama Invoke the 14th Amendment?

In the event that Congress is unable to come to agreement on a balanced deficit reduction bill or a clean bill which simple raises the debt ceiling, President Obama should absolutely utilize his unilateral powers to raise it. During George W. Bush’s presidency, Congress raised the debt ceiling seven times with little fanfare. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Congress raised the limit eighteen times. I have little doubt that Presidents Reagan or Bush would have raised the ceiling unilaterally had Congress pulled the kinds of political shenanigans we are seeing today—consequences be damned.

The president’s most important responsibility is to protect the American people—allowing the country to default on its obligations would do irreparable harm to the economy and the citizenry. The President—any president—has a duty to not let that happen. Even without the 14th Amendment, President Obama would be justified in using his prerogative powers just as Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, and other presidents such as Woodrow Wilson and FDR did during times of crisis.

There would certainly be a political cost to using unilateral powers to end this congressionally contrived crisis; however, the costs of doing nothing would be much steeper. The House would likely move to impeach the President but even if successful, a conviction would be unlikely in the Senate where a 2/3 majority is necessary for removal. For many, President Obama would be a hero as he moved decisively to save a country held hostage by Tea Party radicals in the House of Representatives.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Obama, the Bully Pulpit, and Irrational Lawmakers

Politico Arena Topic: Are President Obama's Public Appearances Helping the Debt Talks?

I don't know if President Obama's public appearances will spur most House Republicans to compromise because nothing has moved them yet--not even their own Speaker who seems more like a hostage than a leader. Perhaps the bully pulpit will prod the American people to slap some sense into these recalcitrant lawmakers but I don't think so. This is not a rational bunch and they seem hell-bent on driving this economy off a cliff.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

The Only Pledge Worth Signing is a Pledge Not to Sign Pledges

Politico Arena Topic: Is Tax Pledge Helping or Hurting Debt Talks?

I’m sure the conservatives in the Arena will argue that the Norquist pledge has been helpful in focusing the debt ceiling debate on tax cuts. I disagree. The Norquist pledge added another layer of complexity to an already difficult process of cutting a balanced deal as Republican lawmakers openly fear breaking their pledge and incurring Norquist’s wrath.

Read my lips: pledges suck. As the country hurtles toward default, I hope candidates will rethink signing pledges offered up by special interests. Pledges may help candidates get elected but they destroy the ability to govern effectively once in office. Pledges prevent politicos from negotiating, bargaining, and compromising on policy — crucial ingredients to governing in a representative democracy. The only pledge worth signing is a pledge to not sign pledges.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

From Congress to My Classroom: Zack Space

One of the perks of my job is that from time to time I get to have some great guest speakers come talk to my classes. Today was no exception. Former U.S. Representative Zack Space (D-OH) drove up from Dover to visit both my American Congress and American Presidency classes. Space was elected in Ohio's 18th CD in the wake of the scandal that embroiled Bob Ney, the six term Republican member of that district. The 2006 wave carried Space and several freshman Ohio Democrats into Congress where he eventually landed a spot on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Space's talk today included such topics as the current debt-ceiling fight, civility or lack thereof in Congress, and some of the tough votes he had to cast including health care and the cap and trade bill. One of 54 members of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, he was frequently caught in the middle on many policy issues. Space served two terms and was defeated by Bob Gibbs in 2010. Of course, 2010 was a tough year for Dems, but especially for Blue Dogs as the herd was thinned by over half .

If the students were grading Zack Space, he'd get an "A" as he was funny, knowledgeable, and forthright. I hope he agrees to come back in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Allen West, Threats to the Gene Pool, and Dishonoring Congress

Politico Arena Topic: Should Allen West Apologize to Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

Republican Representative Allen West (R-FL) went way too far in his personal attack on Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), his colleague in the House and his representative since West lives in her South Florida district. But what do you expect from a guy that wrote to his constituents that: “I must confess, when I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.”

Clearly the GOP lurched far-rightward after the 2010 election; however, guys like West have gone so far right that Ronald Reagan would be considered a RINO and have little chance of rising to the top of the GOP. His personal tirade against Wasserman Schultz demonstrates a lack of civility and calmness of demeanor that should be expected of our elected officials. West’s behavior dishonors Congress and should be condemned.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Praying Away the Debt Ceiling

Politico Arena Topic: Debt Ceiling: Looming Catastrophe or Y2K Redux?

To default on America’s debt is a path this country has never taken nor should it. Most experts on this topic argue that the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. Do members of Congress really want to test out their chicken little theory that nothing will happen should the ceiling not be raised?
As far as Michele Bachmann is concerned, this just proves that she is not a serious candidate for president. I suppose the country can just pray away the debt-ceiling crisis just like clients in the counseling clinic owned by her husband and herself can pray away their gayness.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

McConnell's Plan Out of the Wilderness

Politico Arena Topic: Would McConnell Plan Punt Debt Solution?

At least a version of McConnell's plan could potentially pass, though a number of tea party brand House members have indicated that they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling regardless. At this point, some members of Congress view the McConnell plan as the only way out of the wilderness.

If McConnell's plan passed largely intact, it is an ingenious way to allow the country to avoid defaulting at the same time absolving Republicans of any responsibility over raising the debt ceiling by forcing the president to act unilaterally. The 2/3 vote requirement for Congress to reject such presidential moves would virtually ensure that President Obama would be able to raise the debt ceiling while all Republicans could vote against that - and what a gift that would be for the GOP for the 2012 elections. Because of this, I would be stunned if Harry Reid and the White House would support a plan that does not force Republicans to have some skin in the game as well.

President Obama would be better off invoking the 14th Amendment, unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, and using the bully pulpit to tell the country he had to take charge because Congress is dysfunctional and many members are more interested in their own political future than what is good for the American people. It wouldn't be too hard to convince Americans of that considering the events of the last few weeks.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Cantor's Clout

Politico Arena Topic: Should Speaker Boehner Watch His Back?

I think John Boehner truly wants to get a big deal done—the $4 trillion grand bargain—which could calm the financial markets and go a long way toward paying down America’s debt. He said as much last week. Boehner must of figured that as Speaker of the House, he was the leader of his party in the House. That’s clearly not the case. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, his second in command, is the guy in charge. After throwing Boehner under the bus by pulling out of the debt ceiling talks a couple weeks ago, Cantor is leading the charge for a smaller deal that would include zero compromise on the revenue side—no tax increases on the wealthy, no closing of tax loopholes, nothing with the word “tax” in it unless it is followed by the word “cut”. The Cantor-led GOP will agree to nothing unless they get all of what they want. At a White House meeting yesterday, Cantor did most of the talking—indicative of his new found clout.

The White House knows the GOP position is unreasonable and will exploit it. President Obama will take to the bully pulpit and Democratic surrogates will hit the airwaves and hammer the Republicans for protecting the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working classes. Democrats have already agreed to make painful cuts in popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. What pain are Republicans willing to dole out to their benefactors? If Cantor and his crowd get their way: none. Fear of Tea Party primary challenges and Grover Norquist overwhelm any ability of most in the GOP caucus to strike a reasonable deal. Boehner was right to seek the Grand Bargain—it would have been good for the country and his party. Unfortunately, he way overestimated his own ability to deliver.

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RIP Betty Ford

First Lady Betty Ford, widow of President Gerald Ford, passed away July 8, 2011. She was 93. She was a pathbreaking First Lady and beloved by many.

According to Reid Epstein of Politico: "After her husband elevated to the presidency following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, Ford campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, legal abortion and spoke openly of her battle with breast cancer. For these efforts, she was one of 12 women named as Time magazine’s Women of the Year for 1975."

He continues: "Her longest lasting legacy will be the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol rehabilition in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Ford founded the center in 1982 after her own battle with alcohol abuse and prescription medication. It has become the substance rehabilitation center for celebrities ranging from Mickey Mantle to Elizabeth Taylor. For years after the facility opened, Ford greeted each patient individually, telling them about her path to recovery from addiction to alcohol and pain medication."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"It's Much Easier to Tweet from the Seated Position"

A historic first today: President Obama hosted a real time Twitter town hall. If anyone doubts the power of social media, the sight of an American president using a laptop and answering questions tweeted from citizens should put those doubts to rest. We indeed live in a brave new world. Surreal.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Will the White House Call Their Bluff?

Politico Arena Topic: Do Oil Companies Deserve Tax Breaks?

Eliminating tax loopholes has to be part of the equation if the Obama White House and Democrats are going to agree to cut spending as part of a debt ceiling/deficit reduction agreement. Groups like the Club for Growth will howl that elimination of tax loopholes is equivalent to raising taxes. It’s not. The average American tax payer doesn’t have the luxury of benefitting from loopholes. But Big Oil does and their $38 billion in profits for the first three months of 2011 at a time when Americans can barely afford to fill up their gas tanks is an indication that things are way out of balance.

Cutting of domestic spending will no doubt affect middle and working class folks. Elimination of tax loopholes would largely impact upper class folks and Corporate America. Shouldn’t the sacrifice be spread out? If Republicans choose to draw a line in the sand and stand with Big Oil, hedge fund managers, and corporate jet owners, the majority of the American public will stand on the other side of that line. Democrats and the Obama White House know they have the upper hand. But will they call their bluff?

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Thaddeus McCotter: Strumming His Way to the White House?

Politico Arena Topic: Will Thaddeus McCotter Catch Fire?

Michigan's Thaddeus McCotter is not your typical cookie-cutter Republican. He is at odds with his party at times on such issues as free trade and unions. A passionate defender of America's automakers, McCotter is a 21st century politician known for his tweeting, guitar playing (he is in a bipartisan band called the Second Amendments that plays for the troops from time to time), pop culture references, and beyond the bullet point commentary.

McCotter faces a steep uphill climb. He has virtually no name recognition outside his district and little money to help change that. Also, House members have always done poorly in their bids for the White House. The last sitting member of that body to be elected president was Ohio's James Garfield in 1880 and he was a dark horse compromise candidate who had already been appointed to the Senate when his party came calling. With two other better-known House members in the race already, McCotter will need to make a big splash and quick if he is to get any traction. If he sticks around for awhile, McCotter should make for interesting copy.

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