Monday, July 28, 2014

Obama: This Duck Is Still Mobile

You would think, from all the talk about the midterm elections and the final two years of the Obama Administration, that the president doesn't matter anymore or that absolutely nothing will get done in Washington between now and January 2017. While we may be fighting political gridlock, and the possibility that few if any consequential laws will be passed soon, the rest of the wold is not stopping nor is our country's need for attention to our very real problems. The Republicans in Congress have made it clear that they do not want to work with Barack Obama or give him any victories from which the Democrats can claim any advantage going into the 2016 election season. This is no way to run a country, and we will pay a price in the future for our inability to act now.

There is no shortage of media stories purporting to paint Obama as a lame duck before his time, abandoning his legislative agenda in favor of executive orders and agency rule-writing. The problem with this interpretation is that Obama's actions, especially on the environment, will have a profound effect on business and industry. New rules that detail how much a company can pollute and whether they need to clean up their emissions is no small matter. If it was, then the various business groups that oppose these changes wouldn't be making so much noise.

The same is true with the Affordable Care Act. Yes, two Circuit Courts did issue contradictory rulings last week about whether people who buy policies on the federal exchange are entitled to subsidies, but in the end I believe that the law will be upheld and the subsidies will remain in place. I base this not on my fine reading of the law, but on the fact that by the time the Supreme Court gets the case, upwards of 30 million people will be covered by federal subsidies and the cost of ending them will be too much of a disruption to the country. Just as the Supreme Court ruled that police can't search cell phones without a warrant mainly because the justices understood first hand what that would entail, so they will understand what it means to take health care away from people or make it unaffordable. Either Roberts or Kennedy will provide the deciding vote in any future case; the former to maintain his legacy, the latter because he tends to see applicability more than the other conservatives. The result of any case will be the president having to issue orders or to order executive branch offices to maintain the law so that it continues to honor its promises.

The president is never a lame duck when it comes to foreign policy, and Obama will not be an exception. The world is on fire as we speak and the United States will play a role in unwinding many of the conflicts that engulf it. Critics have been unsparing in their denunciations of Obama's seemingly uninspiring handling of foreign affairs, but many on the right are calling for actions that the United States will not, and should not, take, such as sending troops or issuing ultimatums. Economic sanctions will have an effect on Vladimir Putin, and I think he understands this which is why he continues to push for separatist actions in Ukraine. Obama's continuing contact with Benjamin Netanyahu will result in a cease fire and long-term cessation of hostilities because the American president still carries great weight in the region. Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya look hopeless, but a concerted American effort will yield some results. Ultimately, these countries will have to solve problems on their ow, but each will look abroad for help. Obama will be there.

Labeling a president as a lame duck is dangerous business in today's world because technology has made everything faster and response time smaller. The economy is improving, but if the stock market gains prove to be a bubble, then the president will need to act quickly. Any number of natural disasters would require a response. And if the GOP ever gets the message that tax policy, infrastructure improvements and immigration really do need more attention than suing or impeaching Obama, then perhaps we could have a significant bill before the next election.

I can dream, no?

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