To no one’s great surprise, President Obama has appointed his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Mainly, the choice signals that there will be no change either in the Obama-Geithner approach to reforming Wall Street (not very much), or on fiscal politics, where deficit reduction is a paramount goal despite a faltering recovery.
Anyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn’t been paying attention.
But the President can use certain tools that come with his office—responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and in his capacity as the nation’s chief law-enforcer—to achieve some of his objectives.
On the debt ceiling, for example, he might pay the nation’s creditors regardless of any vote on the debt ceiling—based on the the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit directive (in Section 4) that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
Last week, TheWashington Post’s Greg Sargent had the great idea of talking to an actual hostage negotiator, for a little more insight into the current situation with congressional Republicans and the debt ceiling. Throughout the interview, the negotiator stressed one key point: If you want to defuse a hostage situation, you have to show the hostage taker that you’re in control. For police, this is straightforward—they have lots of guns, and the hostage taker doesn’t.
There has never been a more pro-worker Secretary of Labor than Hilda Solis, who announced yesterday that she’s stepping down from her cabinet post. But for much of her tenure, she was swimming upstream—confronting not just most anti-labor congressional Republicans in modern American history, but also an Obama White House inner circle that she, like many of her fellow cabinet members, never really permeated.
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts.
Last February, the big banks agreed to a major “settlement” to protect themselves from litigation by state attorneys general stemming from fraudulent documentation of mortgages. Though some, such as New York’s crusading attorney general Eric Schneiderman, believed that the government had leverage to get a lot more, the settlement required the banks to pony up some $25 billion to settle outstanding charges.
The banks, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to reform fraudulent practices, such as “robo-signing” and proceeding with foreclosures on one track while supposedly helping borrowers to adjust terms on another. The settlement reserved the government’s right to continue criminal prosecutions.
It's likely that early this year we will once again see another debt ceiling crisis, with Republicans in Congress threatening the credit of the United States in order to win unpopular policy concessions. One increasingly popular idea for getting out of this cycle of hostage-taking is for the president to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would allow the federal government to meet its outlays even if Congress refuses to lift the debt ceiling to allow the executive branch to cover the expenditures is has already required.
The Newtown elementary school massacre has finally sparked a discussion about what to do about the 80 gun deaths in America each day, seven of which are children.
But the dialogue remains constrained, as if we know we have to talk about gun control but we’re still afraid the National Rifle Association (NRA) will scold us as anti-freedom oppressors or start shooting. Beyond the obvious—banning assault weapons and limiting the size of gun clips—there is little information or analysis about concrete reforms that could make a difference. We’re still shying away from basic issues like how criminals, youths, and mass murderers get guns, why existing laws don’t seem to provide rudimentary safety, and why so little attention is paid—and so little responsibility ascribed—to the purveyors and profiteers of the gun industry.
On an April Sunday in 1996, a young man named Martin Bryant went to the popular tourist site of Port Arthur in Australia, and using a pair of semi-automatic rifles, undertook a massacre that spread over several locations and killed 35 people. The crime was so horrific that previously pro-gun politicians changed their positions, and less than two weeks later the government announced sweeping changes to the country's gun laws, outlawing automatic and semi-automatic weapons, instituting lengthy waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases, and creating a gun buyback program that eventually resulted in a fifth of the country's firearms being destroyed. In the years since, the country's rates of gun homicide and suicide have fallen dramatically, and Australia has not had another mass shooting.
What happened in Australia—a terrible tragedy galvanizing public sentiment and leading to a significant change in policy—is something many Americans fervently wish would happen here in the wake of last month's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Details are now emerging on the legal solutions that the White House and its congressional allies will be pushing in the coming days. But anyone hoping for a transformation in America's relationship with guns would do well to be skeptical.
Fears of the Mayan apocalypse might have been for naught, but that doesn't mean 2012 went by without any new signs of our world's impending doom. On Tuesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the United States experienced record temperatures in 2012. Last year's average temperature of 55.3°F is a full one degree higher than 1998, the old record-holder. According to one study, weather stations across the country recorded 34,008 new daily highs, juxtaposed against a paltry 6,664 new record lows.
There were two reasons to legitimately doubt the level of Latino support and enthusiasm for Obama last year—the economy, and deportations. By last July, Obama had deported 1.4 million undocumented immigrants since the beginning of his administration, or 1.5 times more immigrants on average than Bush deported every month. This high and sustained pace of deportations fueled fair questions about the extent to which Latinos would support Obama’s reelection bid.
Astute observers of American politics know that President Obama—moreso than his immediate predecessors—operates in an unusual institutional environment, at least by historical standards. Forty years ago, bipartisan coalitions were (relatively) easy to assemble.
Texas has sent more than its share of nutty people to Washington—folks like Congressman Louie Gohmert, who, just days into 2013, defined hammers as a type of assault weapon and previously cried “terror babies” on Anderson Cooper. They may make a lot of noise and make some extreme statements, but at the end of the day, their impact is negligible.
Like many other parents of school-age children, news of the Connecticut shootings hit close to home for David Bennahum, a New York tech entrepreneur and founder of the progressive American Independent News Network. The day after the attack, Bennahum took to Facebook: “I posted something along the lines of ‘What would really shift the debate is if you had a million kids march on Washington for gun control,” Bennahum says. “My friends on Facebook were like, ‘That’s a great idea. You should start a page about that.’” Two hours after starting the Facebook page, it had 600 “likes”; two days later, it had 3,000. With the backing of progressive leaders and organizers from Bennahum’s former life as a journalist, Bennahum forged ahead organizing the Million Kids March on Washington.