Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Obama's Second-Term BFD Agenda

Victor Juhasz
J ust after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one. Illustration by Victor Juhasz This...

Roe v. Wade Was About ... the Environment?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file
Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name? Here’s the background: Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a poll on American attitudes toward Roe v. Wade on its 40 th anniversary year. Among the findings: while upwards of six out of ten Americans know the historic decision was about abortion, fewer than half of those ages 18-29 did. Just 44 percent, in fact. Numbers are higher if you’ve been to college or graduate school, of course, where you’re likely to have been forced into some public policy or contemporary issues class or conversation. But once they know what it is, they want it to stay legal. Less than one-third—27 percent—of that age group wants it overturned. Young people...

We're Not There Yet on Guns

Guns have killed more than 900 Americans since December 14, 2012. The shocking statistic seems powerful enough on its own to prompt the type of action seen in President Obama's gun-control announcement today. And yet the 23 executive actions and legislative laundry list—gun reform of a size not seen since 1968—were not motivated by the thousands of gun deaths the United States tallies every year alone. No, the only time our nation grapples with our curious and well-documented history of violence is when the magnitude of tragedy is condensed into a moment, such as the shooting that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary the morning of December 14. As Obama gave his remarks today, four children stood behind him, each only a few years older than the 20 kids whose lives were snuffed out that morning in Newtown, Connecticut, and a visceral reminder of why we need to tackle gun-control legislation now. The 900 dead since Newtown, though? Obama only mentioned them in passing while he spent...

Millenials Don't Know Much About Roe v. Wade

Pew Forum
The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization, has a lot to do with the changing demographics of the country. As a class, young people are just more tolerant and less prohibitionist than their older counterparts. To a degree, this extends to abortion. According to the most recent survey from the Pew Forum, 68 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 oppose overturning Roe v. Wade , as opposed to 27 percent who want to see it overturned. The only other group as supportive of Roe are 50 to 64 year olds, who were teenagers or young adults at the time that Roe was decided. It’s worth noting that while Millenials are broadly supportive of Roe , relatively few know that the ruling has to do with abortion: What’s more, the public remains deply divided on the moral question of abortion: 47 percent say that it’s morally wrong, while 13 percent say its acceptable, and 27 percent disagree that it’s a moral issue at all. This, I think, points to...

Will Congress Pass Obama's Gun-Control Legislation Proposals?

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
President Obama unveiled his package of proposals to reduce gun violence today, a mix of executive actions he can undertake unilaterally (23 of them) and ideas that will require new laws passed through Congress. I'll tell you what I think about the package as a whole in a moment, but here are the major provisions: Universal background checks. Right now, about 40 percent of gun sales—those at gun shows, or between two private citizens—require no background check. This is a significant change. A new assault weapons ban. The ban in place between 1994 and 2004 was riddled with loopholes. This one is likely to be much stricter, making it harder to get new military-style weapons. But it won't affect the millions of such guns already in circulation. A ban on high-capacity magazines. Magazines would be limited to 10 rounds. A renewal of effective data-gathering and research into gun violence. Today, not only is the FBI required to destroy all background check information within 24 hours, the...

Hagel Faces Down the Neo-Cons

Rex Features via AP Images
It’s terrific news that the neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol and Elliott Abrams, who have been peddling the slander that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite, got no traction with leading pro-Israel senators. The announcement by New York senator Chuck Schumer and California senator Barbara Boxer that they will support Hagel signals that the mainstream Jewish community wasn’t buying it, and even that the Israel lobby is split. Well placed sources tell me that the full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times created by Kristol and company, under the name “The Emergency Committee for Israel” actually backfired. In the ad, Alan Dershowitz is quoted as saying that Hagel speaks the language of “the bigots of Tehran.” The ad evidently failed to sway leading legislators. The Committee’s entire board is Kristol, Gary Bauer (a prominent rightwing Christian supporter of Israel) and Rachel Abrams, a neo-con married to Elliott Abrams. Schumer’s support now makes it safe for other Democrats and moderate...

President Obama Announces Action on Gun Control with 23 New Executive Orders

Flickr / Creative Commons
This afternoon, President Obama announced a package of proposals to reduce gun violence. These are executive actions, not legislation, and will—among other things—strengthen law enforcement efforts against gun crime, encourage more stringent background checks, and provide resources for gun safety. Here is the full list : Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an...

How Boehner Can Bypass Tea Party Republicans, and Prevent Default

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
When push came to shove, and Congress had to approve legislation to avert the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t rely on his conference to provide the necessary votes. The final agreement—crafted by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden—passed the House with just 85 Republican votes. The remaining 172 came from Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, for a final count of 257 to 167. To avert economic disaster Boehner had to seek votes from a overall majority of the House, rather than just a majority of his caucus. Which has raised an important question: Would Boehner try to build majorities with pragmatic Republicans and Democrats, or would he continue the Sisyphean task of wrangling Tea Party Republicans into a governing coalition. We’re still waiting on an answer, but if last night’s vote on Hurricane Sandy aid was any indication, we may see more of the former over the next year than the latter. First the facts: Last night, the House approved $50 billion in additional relief for...

The NRA Opens Fire

In case you were waiting for the National Rifle Association's reasonable, constructive contribution to our current debate on how best to curb gun violence in America, your wait is over. They are locked, loaded, and ready to bring the crazy. This is an ad they put out yesterday, calling President Obama an "elitist hypocrite." Take a gander: What an elitist, that Barack Obama, thinking he's somehow above ordinary people, like he has some particularly critical job or something, and he and his family might be unique targets for violence requiring special protection! It's almost like he thinks he's the president! This does actually reveal an important aspect of the NRA's world view. As far as they're concerned, all of us should act as though we exist in the same security situation as the president of the United States. You may think you're just the assistant regional manager of a widget company, but in fact, a terrorist commando strike force could be coming to lay siege to your home at any...

Vacation Homes for the Rich, Courtesy of Uncle Sam

Flickr/Xerones/William Warby
Flickr/William Warby T he Leave It To Beaver -style single family home, complete with a yard and picket fence, was long a favored image of American prosperity. It’s also an increasingly irrelevant one. More and more people need housing in city centers, where apartments or condos are usually a better option. Though a manicured yard is lovely, many would prefer to live closer to work and cut their commute. But you wouldn’t know there’d been any significant shifts from federal policy on real estate. Turns out, the U.S. government is still watching reruns. A patchwork of dozens of programs, some nearly a century old, has left us with an incoherent set of intentions and goals. A new report from Smart Growth America , a national coalition that fights sprawl, looks at 50 federal programs that deal with housing and real estate . In total, the federal government spends around $450 billion each year on such programs, counting tax breaks, loans and loan guarantees, and direct investment in real-...

Democrats' New Litmus Issue?

One of the clearest signs of how the gun issue has been transformed since the massacre in Newtown is that two probable Democratic presidential candidates in 2016, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, have come out in the past few days with proposals for significant restrictions on guns, something that just a short time ago many in the party would have considered the height of political foolishness. And only two days into its 2013 session, the state legislature in New York has already passed a measure banning certain military-style guns and ammunition clips with over seven rounds, expanding registration requirements, and requiring background checks for anyone buying ammunition and for private gun sales. While there's no way to know what the political landscape will look like three years from now, at the moment it seems possible that support for strong gun control (or "gun safety" or "gun-violence prevention," if you prefer) measures could become a...

The Last Four Years, and the Next Four

Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch: Watch Facing a Permanent Minority? on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE. The story of this inauguration-night dinner was told in Robert Draper's book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the House of Representatives , which came out eight months ago. Seeing the story retold, what's striking is that beforehand, one would have considered the participants—Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, John Kyl, Tom Coburn—to be extremely, sometimes infuriatingly, conservative. But...

How Much Reform Are We Seeing from GOP Governors?

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Speaking of Republican governors and regressive taxes, two other potential 2016 contenders have introduced new plans that would raise taxes on the least well-off citizens of their states. Last week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell unveiled a new transportation proposal that would abolish the 17.5 cent per gallon gas tax, and replace it with a 0.8 percent increase in the sales tax. Put another way, McDonnell wants to further subsidize car owners, and make up the revenue by increasing taxes on all other Virginians—including those who neither drive nor own cars. The burden of these new sales taxes will, of course, fall hardest on lower-income Virginians. Not to be outdone, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proposed a cut to the state’s income tax. His Republican allies in the state house say they would like to see an across the board cut, targeted to individuals and families earning from $20,000 to $200,000 a year. On its own, this seems reasonable. But when coupled with Walker’s other...

Bobby Jindal's New Tax Plan Would Be a Huge Blow to Louisiana's Poorest Residents

Derek Bridges / Flickr
Derek Bridges / Flickr Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Last week, I mentioned Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s proposal to end all corporate and income taxes, in order to drive economic “investment.” There aren’t many details on the plan, but it’s safe to assume that Louisiana would make up that revenue with higher state and local sales taxes. To wit, here’s the Tax Policy Center , which found that if Louisiana wanted to maintain its current revenues without income and corporate taxes, it would have to double its sales taxes: Last year Louisiana collected $2.9 billion through the individual and corporate income taxes and another $2.6 billion through the general sales tax. Maintaining current revenues with Jindal’s plan would require that sales tax revenues more than double, which means that, absent a significant broadening of the tax base, the tax rate would also have to rise substantially. For households that don’t pay income taxes and save little or no income, this amounts to...

Lift the Limit on Gun Safety Research

raybdbomb / Flickr
In addition to making a push for new gun control regulations, President Obama is eyeing 19 executive orders that would move the ball on gun regulations. The administration will release its list later this week, but if it’s taking suggestions, it should listen to a group of scientists who recently petitioned the Centers for Disease Control to end limits on research into gun safety. “While mortality rates from almost every major cause of death declined dramatically over the past half century, the homicide rate in America today is almost exactly the same as it was in 1950,” the academics wrote in a letter organized by scholars at the University of Chicago Crime Lab research center. “Politically-motivated constraints” left the nation “muddling through” a problem that costs American society on the order of $100 billion per year, it said. The federal Centers for Disease Control has cut firearms safety research by 96 percent since the mid–1990s, according to one estimate. Congress, pushed by...

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