The Obama Administration

Fix the Economy, Not the Deficit

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Obama discuses the sequester last week surounded by emergency responders, whom the White House says could be affected if state and local governments lose federal money as a result of budget cuts. I t’s hard to be happy about the prospect of the sequester—the huge, automatics cuts to domestic spending set to take place if lawmakers can't reach a long-term budget deal—going into effect at the end of the week. Not only will it will mean substantial cuts to important programs; it will be a further drag on an already weak economy, shaving 0.6 percentage points off our growth rate. The end of the payroll tax cut, which expired on January 1, has already pushed it down to around 2.0, but the sequester cuts will depress it below the rate needed to keep pace with those entering the labor market. As a result, we are likely to see a modest increase in unemployment over the course of the year if the cuts are left in place. Of course, it could be worse. Half of...

What We'll Be Talking about in 2016

AP Photo/Mark Hirsch
Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now … although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet. While the identity of the next Democratic and Republican nominees is important, what’s even more important is what they intend to do if elected. Indeed: the nomination process is important because it’s how parties sort out their differences and make decisions about who they are, and what kinds of public policy they support. Moreover, the nomination process is the best chance for groups and individuals within the party to have a chance of affecting what the party will do if it wins. In general elections with huge electorates, there’s not much one person can do that makes any difference. In...

Republican Rationality on Medicaid

Rick Scott, who surprised everyone and did the right thing. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Florida governor Rick Scott, with his skeletal frame, shiny bald pate, nine-figure fortune possibly obtained at least partially through Medicare fraud, and love of humiliating poor people, resembles nothing so much as a comic-book villain. So it was something of a surprise when he announced yesterday that he is reversing his previous position and will allow poor Floridians to receive Medicaid coverage as provided for in the Affordable Care Act. It isn't hard to explain why: the federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees in the first few years, and nearly all the cost thereafter, meaning for a small investment on the state's part it gets a healthier, happier, more productive citizenry. Only a truly despicable politician would turn it down, preferring to see their constituents go without health insurance than get it from the government, as I've argued (OK, "raged" is more like it) before. After the Supreme Court said it its Obamacare decision that states could...

Still More BS

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
We all do things that we regret. President Obama must surely regret that he ever listened to the extreme deficit hawks back in early 2010, when he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the fiscal zombie that just won’t die. The commission is long defunct. The recommendations of its majority report never became law (because that required a super-majority). But the dreams and schemes of B-S have become the gold standard of deflationists everywhere. The test of budgetary soundness is: does it meet the recommendations of Bowles and Simpson? On Tuesday, the depressive duo were at it again, calling for additional deficit reductions of $2.4 trillion over a decade. This is almost a trillion dollars beyond what President Obama and Congress are considering. This clarion call was issued under the aegis of the corporate group, “Fix the Debt,” a bunch of millionaires and billionaires urging regular people to tighten their belts for the greater good. Quite apart from the impact of particular...

Senate Tested, Iran Approved?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
It’s become difficult to keep track of the all the ridiculous charges that have been thrown at Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel over the past few months, but surely one of the most absurd is the idea that the government of Iran “ endorsed ” his nomination. That this had become the latest claim to make the journey from goofy right-wing bleat to conservative political “fact” became evident during the Senate Armed Services Committee debate over Hagel’s nomination last week. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, doing his best impersonation of what he thinks a very serious person sounds like, gravely intoned that, with Hagel’s nomination came “something that was truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.” When Senator Bill Nelson responded that Cruz had “gone over the...

White House Reporters versus the Obama Administration

White House reporters getting the story.
At some point in every presidency, the White House press corps begins to complain about how they're being treated. Sometimes these complaints are legitimate and necessary, the Fourth Estate demanding that the public be adequately informed of what its government is up to. At other times, it's little more than a bunch of overpaid prima donnas whining that the White House staff isn't treating them with the deference they feel they deserve and doing their jobs for them. So let's say you're one of those reporters, and your frustration has been mounting. How can you make sure everyone understands that your gripe is of the first kind and not the second? Well for starters, you might not want to rise up to express your outrage over the fact that you didn't get to watch the President play golf with Tiger Woods. But that's just what happened over the last couple of days. It seems that when Barack Obama hit the links with Woods over the weekend, White House reporters weren't allowed to follow...

The New Liberals

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016. We'll get to those particular candidates in a moment, but what's important to know about them is that this new Democratic coalition you've heard so much about is going to produce its own kind of candidate. That isn't to say they'll necessarily be people you had never heard of until a couple of years ago; some will be politicians who came of age in an earlier era adapting to the...

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols
USDA/Bob Nichols Students at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia. More than 31 million students from low-income families benefit from the the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. T he sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked to avoid it. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion each...

Pretty Words, Dismal Economics

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci President Barack Obama at a pre-kindergarten classroom at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia last week. The president is traveling to promote his economic and educational plan that he highlighted in his State of the Union address. B arack Obama’s State of the Union address last week—which called for, among other things, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage—offered a bold program for rebuilding the middle class. But the president’s continuing commitment to budgetary austerity makes these commitments hollow, if not cynical. And just as Obama and the Democrats paid the price in the 2010 midterm election for excess caution and conciliation, the results of tokenism are not likely to be pretty in the midterms of 2014. Obama's plans for rebuilding the middle class will cost money. Universal pre-K alone would require upwards of $20 billion a year. Unless the president cynically imagines token “demonstration” programs, job training...

Now Hiring: A Few Good Judges

Flickr/Cliff
Flickr/Cliff C hief Judge David Sentelle’s recent opinion in Noel Canning v. NLRB holding President Barack Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional is a trenchant reminder that the D.C. Circuit is, as is often said, the nation’s “second most important court after the Supreme Court.” It has also been, historically, a stepping stone to the high Court. The court now faces four vacancies among 11 judgeships with Sentelle’s February 12 assumption of senior status. But the Obama administration is the first in decades which confirmed no D.C. Circuit judge and has only submitted two names for consideration. The importance and complexity of the circuit caseload means it requires all eleven judges to deliver justice. For this reason—and to increase ideological balance on the court, which has four active and five senior judges whom Republican presidents appointed—Obama and the Senate must expeditiously fill the D.C. Circuit openings. Because of its location and the minuscule number of cases...

Minimum Wage 101

Flickr/pixbymaia
In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama proposed a $9 federal minimum wage, indexed to inflation. Here to discuss the minimum wage as a policy is Arindrajit Dube. Dube is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a widely respected scholar of labor markets and the minimum wage. Along with T. William Lester and Michael Reich, he is the author of Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties (2010), a major study that found no adverse employment effects of minimum wages increases by studying counties that cross state lines. Dube has written a summary back in 2011 on the state of this research here. Narrow, technical issues have dominated so much of the debate on the minimum wage, so I wanted to step back and get a better understanding of the minimum wage as a policy mechanism. These remarks are lightly edited. What does an introductory-level Economics 101 textbook tell us about the minimum wage, and how does that...

Game of Drones

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Murray Brewster
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T he recent release of White House memos outlining the legal justifications the Obama administration believes it has to use drone strikes— against both foreign nationals and American citizens— reminds us that while the American public was otherwise occupied, a revolution in warfare was beginning. This revolution has some ways to go—we're not quite at the point where our next war is going to be fought by nothing but robots on land, sea, and air. But drones become more important not just to our military but to militaries all over the world with each passing year. Unmanned aerial vehicles, and their use in war, have a history nearly as long as aviation itself. During a siege of Venice in 1849, Austria launched balloons carrying explosives over the city—the first recorded use of aerial bombing. In 1863, a New York inventor named Charles Perley patented an unmanned aerial bombing balloon for use in the Civil War (it proved less than reliable, so it had no...

Be Like Janet, Dammit

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifying on comprehensive immigration reform before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday. S peaking about the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California, on Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano assured the audience that "the border is secure ... I believe it is a safe border," an assessment she reprised yesterday in a Senate hearing on immigration reform. "I often hear the argument that before reform can move forward we must first secure our borders, but too often the ‘border security first’ refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems," Napolitano said. "Our borders have, in fact, never been stronger." In advance of the administration's push for immigration reform, the secretary has quietly been making the case that after a decade-long ramp-up in investment, the wave of unchecked immigration that began in the 1990s has come to an end. Indeed, in the last...

Inaugural versus SOTU

Rex Features via AP Images
President Obama did not say last night that “the state of the Union is strong” a favorite phrase used in past State of the Union speeches. Instead he said, “The state of the Union is stronger.” That phrase points away from “the rubble of crisis” and toward a brighter future. In that respect, the address shared much in common with the president’s Inaugural, which presented a broad, liberal vision for Barack Obama’s second term and set policy goals for years down the road. In his address to the join session of Congress, the president was able last night to lay out more specific proposals than he could in his Inaugural speech. But did the president stay true to the ideals he set out in January while delivering his sometimes technical and wonky address last night? We investigate that question – point by point – below. Education During his Inaugural address President Obama said “a modern economy requires … schools and colleges to train our workers” suggesting we should improve schools by...

The State of the Kindergarteners Should Be Strong

Flickr/SFA Union City
Flickr/US Army Africa O bama gave the country a glimpse of his new pre-K initiative in last night State of the Union address—and reason to hope that he’ll bring the rest of the country toward the national models set by states such as Georgia and Oklahoma . About halfway through the roughly hour-long speech, the President proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,”—an ambitious goal, given that only 27 percent of four-year-olds are currently in public pre-K. With his comment that “Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool”—which was met with an emphatic “that’s right” from the audience—Obama gave voice to a huge frustration of parents across the political spectrum. Those close to the issue had already been tipped off to the new initiative at a January meeting with Health and Human Services official Linda Smith, who estimated that the expansion of pre-K would reach some 1.85...

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