When he returns Wednesday afternoon, expect a different tone.
The Cleveland-area visit, which the White House bills as remarks on the economy, is likely to present Obama in a new, election-year narrative. Where he once sought compromise, Obama now aims to distance himself from a Congress with historically low approval ratings.
“In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012 . . . the president is no longer tied to Washington, D.C.,” a deputy press secretary told reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post during a briefing in Hawaii, where Obama was vacationing last week.
Signs of the shift became apparent before Christmas when the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut set to expire Jan. 1. House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, balked at the deal and called for a full-year extension.
With senators already on holiday recess, Obama and fellow Democrats cast the Republicans’ unwillingness to forge a short-term deal as a willingness to raise taxes. On Dec. 22, the House GOP agreed to the two-month extension, handing a political victory to the president.
Further elevating the political stakes of Wednesday’s speech is the fact Obama will deliver it hours after the Iowa caucuses, the first Republican presidential nominating contest.
Obama is scheduled to speak at 1:15 p.m. Beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the school district’s administration building on Parkland Drive.
Ohio, which holds its primary March 6, remains a state key to winning in November; the Shaker Heights visit will be Obama’s 16th to the Buckeye State since taking office in January 2009. Yet Obama’s poll numbers show he has a challenge ahead. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, 55 percent of Ohioans disapproved of the president’s job performance.
Obama won here by four points in 2008 and saw promising signs last fall after a Democratic-backed coalition led the repeal of a labor law championed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. A week after the measure went down, Obama’s re-election campaign sent Vice President Joe Biden to Euclid to celebrate with firefighters and other unionized public employees.
But Republicans were equally encouraged by last fall’s vote on Issue 3, which delivered a strong rebuke to Obama’s health care plan and passed by a greater margin than the labor law failed. On Monday, upon hearing where Obama would speak Wednesday, those Republicans were quick to recall what he discussed the last time he visited Shaker Heights High School.
A Republican National Committee spokesman emailed reporters a link to a story about the Issue 3 vote. And Ohio GOP spokesman Christopher Maloney criticized Obama for holding “political pep rallies and swing-state speeches that don’t create jobs.”
Via email, Maloney added: “The students at Shaker Heights High School and all Ohio families deserve a president who will place their needs and opportunities for a brighter future, before the focus of his own re-election.”
Congressional Republicans have acted shocked and offended at Democrats’ suggestions that they are intentionally sabotaging the economy to try to win back the White House in 2012. Republicans have refused to pass President Obama’s jobs plan — which experts estimate will create at least 1.9 million jobs — and proposed an alternative plan that Moody’s says “will likely push the economyback into recession.”
Now influential Tea Party leaders are throwing caution to the wind and openly lobbying business owners to stop hiring in order to hurt Obama politically. This week, Right Wing Watch picked up on a message Tea Party Nation sent to their members from conservative activist Melissa Brookstone.
In a rambling letter titled “Call For A Strike of American Small Businesses Against The Movement for Global Socialism,” Brookstone urges businesses “not hire a single person” to protest “this new dictator”:
Resolved that: The current administration and Democrat majority in the Senate, in conjunction with Progressive socialists from all around the country, especially those from Hollywood and the left leaning news media (Indeed, most of the news media.) have worked in unison to advance an anti-business, an anti-free market, and an anti-capitalist (anti-individual rights and property ownership) agenda. […]
I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.
Brookstone cites Democrats’ support of the Occupy Wall Street movement as proof that Obama, media elites, and the like are “against business, private property ownership and capitalism.” Although she fails to explain how a freeze on hiring would send a bold pro-business message, given that such a boycott would further damage the economy and exacerbate high national unemployment.
But these Tea Partiers are only too happy to put politics ahead of the well-being of 14 million unemployed Americans, not to mention the businesses who are looking for qualified workers
JUST WHEN YOU thought the mess in Washington couldn’t get any messier comes the year-end snafu over the payroll tax, unemployment insurance and other supposedly must-do items. Explaining this fiasco to the proverbial Martian would be almost impossible. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to see the reduction in the payroll tax extended for a full year. But they have been unable to reach agreement on how to pay for that cost or on extraneous issues being used as political leverage in the fight, such as speeding up approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Senate solution was not so much a solution as a whoppingly bipartisan agreement to fail to reach agreement, kicking the can down the road by a scant two months. No one should feel especially proud of that outcome.
Except, that is, compared with the alternative, which is looking increasingly as though the standoff will continue and the tax reduction will expire, as will the extension of unemployment insurance. Medicare providers, meanwhile, face an unsustainable cut in reimbursements. The House Republicans’ demand that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) appoint conferees to work out a one-year agreement is politically and practically impossible. It would consume several legislative days under Senate rules merely to get the conferees in place. In any event, the longer-term agreement that eluded lawmakers before the two-month deal was struck cannot be achieved in time.
The best solution at this point would be for embattled House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to back away from the cliff to which his rebellious caucus has driven him and to agree to the Senate bill in exchange for a promise from the Senate to return earlier than late January and have conferees work on a year-long extension. It is telling that the speaker, having promised a new, open House, refused to allow the Senate measure to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote, in which enough Republicans might have voted with Democrats to approve the measure.
The unnecessary disruption and economic drag of letting the tax reduction expire is unfortunate. But the real harm involves the failure to extend unemployment benefits. State-paid unemployment insurance would be available for the customary 26 weeks, but extended, federally subsidized coverage that has become routine during economic downturns would end. This is cruel and unwarranted at a time when there are about four jobless workers for every available position and two-fifths of the unemployed have been looking for work for more than six months. If the benefits are not extended, about 1.3 million people will lose coverage in January alone. As the president’s Council of Economic Advisers points out in a report, “In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today.” Can lawmakers really celebrate the holidays while leaving so many Americans in such desperate straits?
House GOP leaders have decided to delay a vote on the Senate payroll tax bill until midday Tuesday, abandoning tentative plans to hold votes as late as 3 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The party whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), attributed the delay in the vote to the Republican pledge to not pass legislation in the middle of the night, as they had criticized House Democrats for doing. The votes on Tuesday, he said, will occur “in the light of day.”
In a rare move, the GOP leaders sought to align themselves with President Obama, saying their push for a yearlong extension was “exactly what the president asked us to do.”
House leaders also appear to be looking to avoid a separate, up-or-down vote on the Senate payroll tax bill.
House freshman are adamant in their opposition to the Senate bill and favor a year-long extension of the payroll tax holiday, but centrist Republicans in the conference would not come out against the short term bill when asked about it after a GOP conference meeting on Monday night.
The Senate approved the measure in an overwhelming bipartisan 89-10 vote, and several Senate Republicans on Monday urged the House to approve the measure.
With Democrats planning to support the measure, Republicans cannot afford many defections on an upcoming vote.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted the House would defeat the bill, however, and Republicans at the Monday meeting said few in any of their colleagues spoke out in favor of the two-month extension at the meeting.
One exception was Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), who told The Hill, “I’m thinking about it, I really am.” Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) earlier on Monday said he would support the Senate bill.
Another possible question-mark, centrist New York Republican Rep. Peter King told The Hill that he would support the leadership’s course of action on the extenders package.
A vote just on a motion to convene a conference committee could give politically vulnerable members the wiggle room to support Boehner without entirely voting against a two-month extension of the payroll tax.
“I think we have to vote down what the Senate sent back but there is a way to do it where we are voting yes,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he could not say if his committee would consider a rule for that up-or-down vote.
House Republican leaders emerged from the closed-door meeting determined to force the Senate into a conference committee. “Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month, short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters. “We’re here. We’re willing to work.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said House Republicans “outright reject the attempt by the Senate to kick the can down the road for 60 days. It’s an unworkable solution.”
Boehner was pressed on why he did not warn Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that the compromise he struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would not fly with the House GOP.
“I made it clear to Senator Reid and Senator McConnell that the House was not going to enter into negotiations until such time as the Senate did its job,” Boehner said. “It was time for the Senate to produce something. We disagreed with what the Senate produced.”
He did not answer directly when asked if McConnell had struck “a bad deal.”
“They did their job. They produced a bill. The House disagrees with it,” the Speaker said.
via The Maddow Blog
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a proponent of the bill, told voters last week that its purpose is “to ensure that no taxpayer dollars flow to health care plans that cover abortion and no health care worker has to participate in abortions against their will.”
In fact, the Affordable Care Act already keeps public dollars separate from the private insurance payments that cover abortion. A federal judge ruled in August that the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List had to stop making the claim on its website that “Obamacare” subsidizes abortions because the assertion is false.
“The express language of the [Affordable Care Act] does not provide for taxpayer-funded abortion,” the opinion states. “That is a fact, and it is clear on its face.”
H.R. 358, introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), goes beyond the issue of taxpayer dollars to place actual limits on the way a woman spends her own money. The bill would prevent a woman from buying a private insurance plan that includes abortion coverage through a state health care exchange, even though most insurance plans currently cover abortion.
An even more controversial aspect of the bill would allow hospitals that are morally opposed to abortion, such as Catholic institutions, to do nothing for a woman who requires an emergency abortion procedure to save her life. Current law requires that hospitals give patients in life-threatening situations whatever care they need, regardless of the patient’s financial situation, but the Protect Life Act would make a hospital’s obligation to provide care in medical emergencies secondary to its refusal to provide abortions.
“Congress has passed refusal laws before, but it’s never blatantly tried to override emergency care protections,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’ve heard proponents of this bill say that women don’t need emergency abortion care, but that is really just willful blindness to the facts.”
According to the American Journal of Public Health, Catholic hospitals already have a years-long history of ignoring the emergency care law to avoid performing abortions. In late 2009, an Arizona bishop excommunicated a nun who authorized an abortion procedure for a woman who otherwise might have died of pulmonary hypertension at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she personally faced a situation in which an abortion was medically necessary.
“I was pregnant, I was miscarrying, I was bleeding,” she said on the House floor Thursday. “If I had to go from one hospital to the next trying to find one emergency room that would take me in, who knows if I would even be here today. What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to do is misogynist.”
Despite a strong showing in the House, the bill is unlikely to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and the White House said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama will veto the legislation if it ever reaches his desk.
“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 358 because … the legislation intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today,” the White House said in a statement.
President Obama should quit watching sports and drinking beer with his political opponents in hopes it will lead to GOP cooperation, Rep. Maxine Waters said Thursday.
The outspoken California Democrat said Obama needs to fight harder for Democratic policy priorities in the face of entrenched opposition from Republicans and the Tea Party.
“He’s been very nice about it,” Waters said of Obama’s budget negotiations with Republicans. “He’s been on the other side of the aisle talking with people. He’s invited them up to the White House to have beer. He’s invited them to come and watch the Super Bowl games.“He’s done all of that, and when they eat his food and drink his beer and leave, then they go and try to kill him [on Capitol Hill],” she told an audience gathered for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation’s annual legislative conference in Washington.
“You’ve gotta fight — you will not win this battle without fighting,” she added.
Many House liberals have been disenchanted with Obama going back to December, when the president accepted GOP demands that the Bush-era tax rates be extended to even the wealthiest Americans — a provision strongly opposed by most Democrats.
The president drew similar liberal criticism this summer for backing enormous cuts in both a 2011 spending bill and legislation to raise the debt ceiling. More recently, some CBC members wondered aloud why Obama didn’t visit any urban areas on his August jobs tour through the Midwest.
Obama this month has taken steps to silence his liberal critics, adopting a more combative tone, for instance, in his Sept. 8 address before a joint session of Congress. Liberals are also cheering Obama’s proposal to eliminate the same tax rates for the wealthy that he’d backed in December.
Still, Waters suggested Thursday that CBC members remain wary of Obama’s willingness to fight for liberal priorities when the going gets tough.
“We love the president. We want him to be successful,” Waters said. “But does he feel our pain? Does he understand what’s going on out here?”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Waters, who heads the CBC’s jobs taskforce, said she’s encouraged by Obama’s new proposal to address unemployment and rein in deficit spending. But she also warned that the group will be watching closely as the high-stakes budget negotiations evolve.
“We’re pleased that the president has a jobs proposal. Now we have to trace it and to track it … because strange things happen in the legislative process. We don’t want this to end up being just a tax-cut deal only,” she said.
“I love the president,” she added, “but I will ask the president, ‘Where’s the money?’ ”
Waters suggested the black community needs to become more involved if it wants Washington lawmakers to take notice, for instance, that the recession hit minority communities much harder than it did white populations.
“We have got to show up. The Tea Party shows up. The Tea Party intimidates everybody,” she said. “We have to show people that we have no fear. Don’t mistake the silence for intimidation.”
Waters generated headlines last month when, amid a CBC job-promotion tour, she said the Tea Party “can go straight to hell.”
On Thursday, she wasn’t apologizing.
“Yes, I was displayed in national media telling them where to go,” she said. “And I mean that.”
If anyone in the audience was surprised by Waters’s trenchancy, they shouldn’t have been. Indeed, the California Democrat had warned the crowd that she wouldn’t be holding her tongue.
“Please be worried about what I’m going to say,” she said at the start of her remarks,” because I’m going to say it anyway.”