Sunday, January 18, 2015

Advantage Obama

It's been apparent for a long time, almost the whole of Barack Obama's presidency, that the national government has wasted a great deal of time and energy on obstruction, fights over small, petty issues, and grandstanding by both parties on wedge issues where each blamed the other for declaring war on some segment of the population.

There are two years left in Obama's term. Can we please get something done?

The Republicans have shown their hand rather early by passing legislation that would force the administration to fund and build the XL pipeline, but the battle over the pipeline is probably not as important as either side says. In fact, there are other pipelines that already have been built, or are in the process of being built, that would do more damage or good than XL that don't cross our border with Canada, so they don't need to be reviewed by the federal government. It's politics over facts, as it usually is in DC, and even lower gas prices will not put an end to this debate. Besides, the president has already said that he will veto XL, so it's pretty much a moot point.

The GOP-led house has also voted to undo Obama's executive order on immigration. This would expose many undocumented immigrants to deportation and would split up families whose children were born in this country, and are citizens, but whose parents could be sent back to their country of origin. That the conservatives were able to insert this language into the bill tells us that they are still alive and well and have the ability to push Speaker John Boehner to the right. The question is how much damage the caucus has done to the party, especially after the loss of Hispanic voters in the 2012 election.

The president has countered with some ideas that will appeal to the Democratic base and to the independent voter. First up is his plan for the government to pay for two years of community college for many prospective students. This is an excellent idea, but doesn't go far enough. If this country truly wants to be a meritocracy, then the government should pay for tuition for every student enrolled in an undergraduate program. Colleges can still keep their standards, but this will allow them to choose the truly deserving without have the ability to pay be an insurmountable roadblock. Will it be expensive? Yes, but the rewards will come back to us exponentially in knowledge, productivity, ingenuity and promise. It is time for such an investment in our future.

Obama has also called for a middle class tax cut to be funded mostly by having the top earners pay more and for the tax code to be reformed. This is an overdue policy, especially because it would end many tax breaks and lower rates that have traditionally gone to the top wage earners. A middle class cut would help those people still struggling with the aftereffects of the recession and, together with the drop in gas prices (for now) would put needed funds back in people's pockets and bank accounts.

Of course, both Obama initiatives will not survive in the Republican-controlled Congress but, like most good ideas, they will eventually become law because they will help the country. If the GOP wants to run against them in 2016 and believe they can win the election, then they should go ahead and do that. The Republican leadership has said that they want to work with the president. Here are some great ways to start doing just that.

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