Despite its brilliance, the Constitution can sometimes be an awfully sticky wicket. For example, does the doctrine of religious freedom, laid forth in the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, require special legal exemptions for religious organizations? Or does it merely forbid laws that specifically interfere with religious practices? Two recent decisions have moved the needle in seemingly opposite directions.
Posts Tagged ‘Obama’
Turn on your TV at 9 p.m. ET (2 a.m. GMT). Any unfair and off-balance news channel will do. Or, if you’re like me, watch it on the White House livestream.
Whitehouse.gov will have an enhanced broadcast that promises “charts, stats, and data.” Afterwards, you can submit your questions in a chat with White House senior advisors. If you’re not excited by that, then this blog probably isn’t for you.
For those watching on TV, you can enhance your own broadcast by playing SOTU bingo or a SOTU drinking game… or both. Here’s the card I’ll be using:
I’ll leave it to you to devise your own drinking game, but a word to the wise: shots for every applause break will leave the state of your union very weak tomorrow morning.
And free drinks to those who can quote the passage from the Constitution that mandates the SOTU! If so, you have something in common with Jed Bartlet – and that’s never a bad thing. Enjoy. Check back later for reflection and analysis.
Update 8:39 ET/1:39 GMT: Apparently Warren Buffett’s secretary is in the audience. This should be interesting. Mitt Romney, hold on to your taxes…
Update 8:45 ET/1:45 GMT: The White House just released a handful of excerpts from the speech. Key words: fairness, responsibility, values.
Update 9:05 ET/2:05 GMT: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) scored himself an aisle seat and received a cordial greeting from the president. WH photographer Pete Souza was on hand to capture it. Any chance Wicker will hang that photo on the wall?
Newt Gingrich’s hopes of winning the Republican nomination for president were dashed Tuesday with this brief lapse into reason:
“I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them. I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”
The damning word in that statement was, of course, “humane.” For most of today’s Republicans, the people who come to this country without documentation are not entitled to basic human rights, Constitutional or otherwise. They are “aliens,” and illegal ones at that, who parasitically steal American jobs and use American emergency rooms.
To most Republicans, undocumented immigrants are never law-abiding people who came to the U.S. out of desperation, often working multiple low-wage jobs to support their families. They are never people who entered legally, but overstayed their visas. They are never people who pay payroll and sales taxes but receive few public services in return. And they are never, never from anywhere except Mexico.
Gingrich’s use of the word “humane” was key, because the immigration system as it is currently structured dehumanizes those who get caught in its grasps. This Frontline documentary from October captures the horror and injustice that is perpetrated in defense of “the land of the free.” (Ed. note: Please watch it. It’s extremely powerful.)
Whereas President Obama has repeatedly asserted his support for open, fair immigration policies, his administration has deported undocumented immigrants at a record rate. ICE has met their target of 400,000 deportations every year under Obama, a large increase over deportations under Bush. Ostensibly, this was a political strategy to clear the way for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. No Republicans — not even John McCain, who wrote a similar bill in 2007 — would step forward to be part of that effort. The hardliners ended up getting their way courtesy of a liberal Democratic president: tighter border security, more employer crackdowns, and large-scale deportations. While Obama has recently begun to reverse course, his first three years of immigration policy were an abject failure.
Ultimately, how we treat immigrants, documented or not, speaks to who we are as a country. Will America be a country that sends away those who are too poor, too uneducated, and too brown, or will we be a country that respects the inherent value of every individual, no matter where they came from or how they got here? All of those who come to America to work hard, provide for their families, and give their children the opportunity to live a better life should be welcomed. They make the country better, while those who try to exclude them make it worse.
This does not imply that we shouldn’t have strictly-enforced immigration laws. We need robust border security in order to know exactly who and what is in the country at all times. Likewise, we should crack down on employers who skirt labor regulations by hiring undocumented workers. Immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. should be prosecuted the same as anyone else.
But we must also recognize that immigrants already in the country have a right to stay. America should not be a country that denies people who want to work the ability to do so, nor should we break apart families or punish children for the actions of their parents. We should extend more visas to those who want to come to the United States to work or study, and they should be given a path to becoming American citizens if they so choose.
After all, the primary reason the U.S. attracts so many immigrants is because of the ideals of opportunity and freedom that we espouse. Our leaders — from both parties — have failed to live up to those values. We are a better country than this, and it’s about time that our immigration laws reflected it.
Leaked reports indicate that President Obama will propose $300 billion in new tax cuts and spending during his address to the nation Thursday night. As expected, the president will call for an extension for the current employee payroll tax breaks, new cuts in the employer payroll tax rate, infrastructure spending, and aid to state and local governments. An extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless is also expected to be included, as well as some innovative proposals to incentivize businesses to hire from the pool of currently unemployed. I wouldn’t be surprised if a plan to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages is also included. Tune in Thursday to find out.
The poll finds that only 37 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, versus 59 percent who disapprove. It also finds that only 31 percent are “extremely confident” or “quite confident” that the President has the right goals and policies to improve the economy, versus a whopping 68 percent who are only somewhat or not at all confident.
But then the pollsters ask about the policies themselves. And here’s what they find:
— A solid majority (60 percent) supports reducing the deficit by ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
— A solid majority (56 percent) supports reducing the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
— Only 37 percent support the GOP’s solution to the deficit, i.e., reducing it only through spending cuts with no tax hikes on the rich or corporations.
— A plurality supports a federally funded roads construction bill to create jobs, 47-26, which is similar to what Obama is expected to propose in his jobs speech.
— A plurality supports continuing to extend unemployment benefits, 44-39.
— A plurality supports an extension of the payroll tax cut, 40-20.
President Johnson was undone by the so-called “Credibility Gap” between the rosy picture he painted of Vietnam and the bodybags that were being flown home. President Bush (41) was undone by the so-called “Empathy Gap” between his detached view of the nation’s economic problems and the actual suffering of middle-class families. President Obama is suffering from a “Communication Gap” between the economic policies he supports and what policies people think he supports (or the lack thereof.)
In fairness to the White House, most of the blame falls on the shoulders of the media — especially the morass-holes at Fox News — who think “fair and balanced” means reporting the debate instead of the facts. But that is the hand they were dealt, and it’s one they must learn to play better. The president’s speech in Detroit yesterday was a good start (see previous post) and hopefully will set the tone for Thursday’s address to the nation and beyond. In a way, there is a silver lining in these polls for Obama: most of the American public already agree with him on the economy. Now, he just needs to explain that he’s been on their side the whole time. He’ll have plenty of microphones from which to do that between now and Nov. 2012, but he better start now.
From President Obama’s Labor Day speech to workers in Detroit:
We said working folks deserved a break — so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.
We said working folks shouldn’t be taken advantage of — so we passed tough financial reform that ended the days of taxpayer bailouts, and stopped credit card companies from gouging you with hidden fees and unfair rate hikes, and set up a new consumer protection agency with one responsibility: sticking up for you.
We said that if you’re going to work hard all day to provide a better life for your kids, then we’re going to make sure that those kids get the best education possible. So we helped keep teachers on the job. We’re reforming our public schools, and we’re investing in community colleges and job-training programs. And we ended wasteful giveaways that went to the big banks and used the savings to make college more affordable for millions of your kids.
We said that every family in America should have affordable, accessible health care. We said you shouldn’t be discriminated against because you’ve got a preexisting condition. We said young adults without insurance should be able to stay on their parents’ plans. We got that done — for you.
And here’s what else we said, Detroit. We said that American autoworkers could once again build the best cars in the world. So we stood by the auto industry. And we made some tough choices that were necessary to make it succeed. And now, the Big Three are turning a profit and hiring new workers, and building the best cars in the world right here in Detroit, right here in the Midwest, right here in the United States of America.
Many Democrats I talk to are pleased with what Obama has accomplished but disappointed with his ability to sell it. Even the president himself has admitted as much. Recent polls have shown that 47% of uninsured Americans don’t think that health care reform will benefit them (it will) or when fewer than one in ten think they got a tax cut in the stimulus package (95% did.) The Labor Day speech was the first time that Obama explained how the Recovery Act, financial reform, health care reform, Race to the Top, and Big Three rescue fit together and, more importantly, how they relate to middle- and working-class families.
More to come.
The number of hours between the time President Obama requested to convene a joint session of Congress for his major address on jobs and the time that Speaker Boehner will let him. Today’s back-and-forth partisan spat over the timing of the president’s speech has been a caricature of our current political dysfunction.
Here’s a brief summary. Around noon, the White House sent a letter to the Hill asking for a joint session on Wednesday, September 7th, which just so happened to overlap with a scheduled Republican presidential debate. (For those that think it was a coincidence, read this.) Speaker Boehner, not wanting to let the president trample over his party’s debate, cooked up a BS parliamentary excuse to delay the speech until Thursday, September 8th. The White House accused the Speaker’s office of reneging on their private agreement about the date, while the Speaker’s office said that the White House had sent the request before the date was confirmed. Ultimately, President Obama — perhaps just wanting to get the whole farce over with and perhaps acknowledging how juvenile it was to overlap with the debate to begin with — accepted the Speaker’s new date. So now Americans will have to wait 24 more hours to hear what the leader of the free world thinks we should do about the economic future of our country.
What effect will this have on people outside of Washington? None. Everyone with better things to do will have surely have forgotten about it by next Thursday. But what effect will it have inside the Beltway, where the points won and lost in these political games are written down in ink? It’s uncertain, but the slim hope of finding bipartisan support for the president’s jobs proposals has probably left town.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released today shows that 47% of Americans without health insurance do not expect to be affected by the Affordable Care Act. Only three in ten say that it will make it easier for them to get health insurance, while a full 14% believe that they will be hurt by the law.
Whatever your views on the merits of the ACA in general, there is no denying that it will have drastic effects on the ranks of the uninsured. The CBO estimates that 32 million low- and middle-income Americans will gain coverage through the expansion of Medicaid and tax credits to offset the cost of private coverage. Unlike those with employer-based insurance, the uninsured will be able to purchase their plans through state-regulated exchanges — websites that allow consumers to easily compare the prices and features of different plans before choosing the right one for themselves and their families. And those who were barred from purchasing insurance because of preexisting conditions or lifetime caps can no longer be turned away. (The Dept. of Health and Human Services has set up a great website to explain exactly what is in the Affordable Care Act and how it will affect you.)
Many supporters of the law will be quick to chalk this up as another communications failure by the Obama White House. No doubt that is partly to blame, as the poll says only half of the uninsured — the group that stands to benefit most from the president’s signature domestic achievement — are familiar with the chief components of the law. But blame also lies with many of the law’s opponents, who turned the debate into a cacophony of lies and distortions that the media has done very little to disprove. Ultimately, though, the biggest reason that so few people understand what’s in the ACA is that the law is complex, and most people have better things to do with their time (Tyler and myself excluded.)
These numbers actually expose a silver lining for the White House. Overall public opinion is still slanted against the law 39/44, but low support among the uninsured means that its favorability has tremendous upside. Supporters have good reason to believe that once the major provisions kick in on January 1, 2014, those that stand to benefit the most will start signing a different tune, and the last major piece of the U.S. safety net will become as entrenched as Social Security and Medicare.
Princeton economist Alan Krueger will replace Austan Goolsbee as chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors. Krueger is a preeminent labor economist who had previously served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Ezra Klein has reaction to the choice here and a summary of Krueger’s academic work here.
Krueger is an experienced and respected addition to the Obama economic team, and his knowledge of the labor market should counterbalance the points of view of the White House’s two senior deficit hawks: Jack Lew and Gene Sperling. Obama seems to have come to the realization that the job-creation measures he undertook early in his term were insufficient and his pivot to deficit reduction was premature. Without reading too much into it, Krueger’s appointment appears to signal that the White House is going to get serious again about recharging an underperforming economy.
Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would suspend the deportation proceedings of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to public safety or national security. Citing “prosecutorial discretion,” the Department of Homeland Security will review the roughly 300,000 pending deportation cases to determine which high-priority prosecutions to continue. The rest — especially for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children — will be put on hold.
Many of the president’s supporters had been critical of the administration for deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants during his first two years in office. The White House’s position was clear: they had to show good faith on enforcement before Republicans would come to the table to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. But as anybody who has ever watched “Peanuts” could have predicted, the GOP snatched the football away after the Democrats made their initial concessions, leaving the Democrats on their backs wondering why they had ever trusted Republicans in the first place.
The breaking point was the Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act — the lowest common denominator of immigration reform. The law only affected undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16. To apply for legal immigration status, they had to earn a high school diploma or GED and spend two years in college or the military. If we can’t agree that a person who was brought to the U.S. as a child, who has earned a high school diploma, and who has served two years in uniform should be able to apply for legal status — much less citizenship — then there’s no hope for any progress on broader immigration legislation. But that’s what happened, and the Obama administration rightfully concluded that executive authority was the only way to bring a modicum of fairness to a broken system.
More on this to come.