Sunday, December 26, 2010

An unexpected Obama surge

By Don Klein

When you have the nerve to express your opinions publicly you have a tendency to occasionally to put your foot in your mouth. I experienced such a moment a mere three weeks ago when I scolded President Obama for what I concluded was a reckless abandonment of principles in giving in to the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.

I described Obama as a " reluctant warrior" who demonstrated "failed leadership" because of his compromise with the obstinate Republican senators on extending the Bush tax cuts. I said Obama was a disappointment and was suffering from a "massive dose of languor" because he didn’t fight harder for his principles.

Then came the final week of the Lame Duck Congress just before Christmas. It proved I was wrong.

Obama turned the tables in a sudden unpredictable sweep of legislation that would have made any president proud. It was unprecedented. He managed, with the help of solid Democrat support and a handful of moderate Republicans, to demonstrate that he did indeed have the clout we all hoped he would have. He improved his image as a leader here and abroad. All of which accrues to the benefit of the nation as a whole.

Just in case you have forgotten, this is what the Obama Congress accomplished in his first two years. It is as formidable as any president could have done and surpasses the efforts of previously Republican leaders:

>Lilly Ledbetter Act, January 29, 2009. Makes it easier for workers to file
employment-discrimination lawsuits.

>SCHIP, February 4, 2009. Expands health care coverage for children.

>Stimulus, February 17, 2009. Provides $787 billion in tax cuts and additional spending to aid U.S. economic-recovery efforts

>Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, April 21, 2009. Creates incentives to foster volunteer opportunities through programs such as AmeriCorps.

>Credit Card Bill of Rights, May 22, 2009. Enhances safeguards to protect consumers from abusive practices.

>Tobacco, June 22, 2009. Provides the Food and Drug Administration with enhanced authority to regulate tobacco products

>Cash for Clunkers, August 7, 2009. Provides consumers with a cash incentive to buy automobiles with higher fuel-efficiency standards.

>Hate-Crimes Bill, October 28, 2009. Enhances law-enforcement resources to prosecute crimes based on gender and sexual orientation.

>Health Care, March 30, 2010. Overhauls the U.S. health care system to provide insurance coverage for more Americans.

>Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, March 30, 2010. Makes the federal government the provider of all student loans.

>Financial-Regulatory Reform, July 21, 2010. Expands federal government’s role in regulating financial markets.

>Tax Cuts, December 17, 2010. Extends for two years the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003.

>'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell', December 22, 2010. Lifts the ban on openly gay men and women from serving in the military

>Food Safety, December 21, 2010' Strengthens regulatory standards intended to protect the nation’s food supply.

>New START, December 22, 2010. Implements a new arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

>9/11 First-Responders Bill, December 22, 2010. Funds medical care for first responders sickened after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Add them up and there are 16 important bills in two years. Admittedly not all of them were perfect, but that is not unusual in legislation. Nothing is ever really the way many people prefer it to be. But is a sign of accomplishment.

What must be remembered is that all this was accomplished in the face of an obstructionist senate which at the whim of a single senator, bills could be delayed into oblivion. We should be particularly proud of the Democrats who stood by their guns to fight for the people down to the bloody end. We also must take our hats off to the dozen or so Republican moderates who joined the majority near the end of the session to salvage much of this legislation.

Even though may, including me, are still extremely unhappy with the extension of tax cuts for millionaires, many of whom said they would happily forgo the benefit, it seemed to be the plunger that dislodged the hopelessly stuffed legislative pipeline. I am only sorry that Obama didn’t rise to the can-do occasion before the election to possibly save the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

Make no mistake. The next two years will be no picnic on Capitol Hill. I doubt the president will be able to do as much, in fact I think most of his energy will be used to stave off the GOP, which allowed much of what was accomplished this session only because they planned to kill some of the laws by not funding much of this new legislation in the next Congress since they hold the purse strings in the House.

Nevertheless there is a new sense of reliance in Obama and his strategists. I would not sell him short given his successes during the first half of his term. The sadness is the failure of the Dream Act to pass. That should work to the disadvantage of the Republicans in the presidential election of 2012. Hispanics would be fools not to remember which party submarined the bill to aid the innocent children of illegal aliens.

The important fact is the Republicans now know they have a notable opponent in Obama and will not take him lightly as we move on to the next Congress. I look forward with lots more enthusiasm to the next two years.