No Miracles in Lame Duck Wins
“A lot of folks in this town predicted that after the midterm elections, Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock. And instead, this has been a season of progress for the American people.”
-- President Obama at a post-lame-duck press conference.
The members of the Washington press corps are in a race to see who can be the first to officially declare President Obama’s political rehabilitation.
Stories today ask if the president is another “comeback kid,” and point to a string of “surprising” legislative victories in the lame-duck session of Congress. Mainstream news outlets are leaning hard into the story and marveling at how Obama managed to win approval of tax plan, a missile treaty and an allowance for gay service members to express their sexualities.
It reflects the year-end message from the president and his team: You thought we were down, but we’re back, baby.
Power Play can offer the journalists marveling at the regenerative powers of the president who was shellacked seven weeks ago and his ability to pass a boatload of legislation: It’s the same Democratic Congress he’s had for two years.
Not only is it the same Congress, but by opting to wait until after the aforementioned shellacking, Democrats intentionally waited until they were beyond the reach of voters and free to do as they pleased on controversial issues. Given the degree of Democratic infighting over the past two years it may be hard to remember that the party has been in a position of dominance in Washington not seen since the post-Watergate era.
This is no Christmas miracle. This is power politics.
Obama’s primary difficulties of the past two years haven’t been with Congress, but instead with the body politic. Starting with the 2009 elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats have seen their political position steadily worsen with voters, and there is so far no sign of that changing.
The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress are quick to dismiss their electoral misery as an unavoidable result of a bad economy for which they were not responsible.
As Harry Reid told the New York Times: “The economy is the reason you had the uproar from the Tea Party. That’s all it was.”
Voter anger about the economy isn’t just some free-floating angst. It is rooted in a feeling that Obama’s policies are hurting or at least not helping. Beyond that, the sluiceway of sweeping legislative changes pouring out of Washington further reinforced a belief among many Americans that their leaders are out of touch.
Democratic lawmakers leaving town were boggled by their own successes of the past two years – a national health-care law, new bank regulations, two new liberal Supreme Court justices, new tobacco regulations, and now the lame-duck sweep.
Democratic triumphalism over their successes suggests a party not ready to face the reality of a new Washington or to engage with voters in a new way. Republicans may be accused of pandering to voters with their pledges of reform and restraint, but even pandering is a form of engagement.
By choosing to end their period of hyper-dominance in Washington with a huge lawmaking bash, Democrats did nothing to suggest that they have heard from voters.
President Obama may be crowing about defeating predictions that gridlock would follow the election, but he might want to wait until the new lawmakers arrive before he extols the new era of compromise.
Democrats brutalized the Republican minority for two years, with the lame duck as a parting pummeling. Obama’s new vision of comity is understandable given his weakened position, but unlikely to be realized.
Obama Zaps Dems on Gitmo
"Guantanamo is probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations. And we see it in the websites that they put up. We see it in the messages that they're delivering."
-- President Obama responding to a question from FOX News colleague Mike Emanuel on Wednesday.
President Obama bluntly restated his belief that the POW camp at Guantanamo Bay is the “number one recruitment tool” for Islamist terrorists just one day after members of his own party blocked his administration’s plan to shutter the facility.
Democrats included a provision in a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government operating until March that explicitly denies Obama any funds to execute his long-promised closure of the terrorist prison and the importation of its inmates for detainment and trial in the U.S.
Obama’s rebuke was unmistakable: Congress had prevented him from protecting the nation from the major security threat of our time.
It raises the question, though, of why Obama signed the deal or at least didn’t press harder on his fellow Democrats to remove the provision. The White House worked overtime in the lame duck on whipping Democratic votes on a tax deal unpopular on the left and on securing the votes of hawkish members of his own party for the elimination of restrictions on homosexual service members.
If Obama believes the prison is so dangerous, why didn’t we hear more, sooner?
Good Numbers Not Good Enough for Economists
“We thought housing would bottom in 2010, but it looks like it will take another year.”
-- David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, talking to the Financial Times.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its estimates for third-quarter growth from 2.5 to 2.6 percent and existing home sales were 5.6 percent from October to November. Good news, right?
Well, it’s complicated.
Wall Street had been looking for 3 percent growth in the third quarter and home sales are still down nearly a third from last year when a big tax credit was juicing the sclerotic real estate market. The message from the boys and girls who place the smart money is that the economy is still shaky.
The problem is that the things that happen when you have a recovery after a long recession – prices go up and people take profits – tend to actually reduce the velocity of the economy. That’s not a big problem if there is growth of 4 percent or more, but when things are as weak as they are now, high prices are serious trouble. Nothing kills a recovery like inflation.
Note that oil is headed back to $100 a barrel.
The primary short-term concern being expressed by economists is that the housing market is still very sick, with loads and loads of foreclosures and underwater home sellers acting as a depressant. The effort to keep banks from foreclosing during the Panic of 2008 and its immediate aftermath may have eased he rate of descent, but it created a huge surplus of under-priced homes that are soaking up new sales and keeping prices low.
Add to that creeping interest rates, pushed upward by the higher prices the federal government now must pay to borrow money and the shrinking opportunities banks have to profit, and you get stagnation in the all-important housing market.
Throw in the mounting worries about inflation caused by the Federal Reserve’s liberal monetary policies and the concerns that U.S. debt will soon force either drastic measures on spending or more inflation through additional Federal Reserve cash pumps, and you see why so much money is still sitting on the sidelines.
Watch today as the numbers on weekly jobless claims, new home sales for November and weekly mortgage rates are released. Good numbers likely won’t be good enough given the pall that still hangs over the economy.
Talking Point Alert: Obama Edging Toward Support of Gay Marriage
“I've wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples. And squaring that circle is something that I have not done yet, but I'm continually asking myself this question…”
-- President Obama in an interview with the gay magazine The Advocate.
President Obama made good on his big promise to his gay supporters of repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military.
Amid the celebration for what Obama says is the end of suffering for “tens of thousands” of gay service members, the president began his pivot to the larger objective of gay activists: a national standard that allows gay marriage.
Obama opposed the concept as a candidate, favoring instead civil unions that confer the rights of marriage to same-sex couples but not the same social status. The strongest sign of the shift came in his interview with leading gay publication The Advocate, when Obama suggested that opposition to full fledged gay marriage was a result of generational misunderstanding and attributed his former opposition to thinking like an oldster. That’s not a sign of a man standing pat.
The issue is currently caught in a legal rats nest, but will likely head for the Supreme Court soon in the form of a challenge to a ban on gay marriage in California or another state. Obama may hope to use court rulings against current law, like the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, to bolster an argument to allow gay marriage nationally.
While national attitudes about gay marriage have softened since 2008 thanks to increasingly common media portraits of gay families and the administration’s own nudging on military service, the issue can still produce political fallout.
Consider the Iowa judges tossed off the state Supreme Court following their decision to opt for gay marriage.
Google’s Man in the White House Departs
“My White House experience has been fantastic, but it's been more than two years since I started working on the transition, and I've been feeling the itch to get entrepreneurial again.”
-- Andrew McLaughlin of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and former top lobbyist for Google announcing his resignation to reporter Kim Hart of Politico.
Hot on the heels of a big victory for Google in the FCC’s move to regulate the Internet, the company’s highest-ranking placement in the Obama administration is stepping out.
Andrew McLaughlin was Google’s top lobbyist and his hire to oversee administration policy on a host of Internet issues caused quite a stink. So did the discovery that he had used a private email account to confer with his former colleagues at the dominant portal to the Web.