Saturday, November 22, 2014

Editorial: Whose Butt Gets Kicked?

When Republicans gained the Senate majority in the recent midterm elections to consolidate congressional leadership under the GOP, it became apparent that, come January, either President Barack Obama’s butt will get kicked, or new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and House Speaker John Boehner’s butts will get kicked. President Obama has to decide whether he will be the kicker or the kickee.

It’s too late for Obama to summon his inner Franklin Roosevelt. Now he needs to summon his inner Harry Truman and give the Do-Nothing Republicans Hell — or at least follow the example of Bill Clinton, who lost his Democratic congressional majority in 1995 — two years into his term — and had to show the new GOP congressional leaders that his veto pen worked before they would sit down for serious negotiations. And even then it took two government shutdowns before the Republicans got serious.

Obama already has faced down the Republicans over a shutdown in October 2013 after Teabag Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), resisted adoption of a continuing resolution for appropriations. The Senate takeover emboldened Teabagger extremists who think the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 didn’t go far enough in rolling back the Obama menace. And many of them figure that, since they won in the midterms, the shutdown worked!

Obama faced the first of his first challenges on Nov. 20 when he announced that he would implement some immigration reforms by executive order after a bipartisan Senate bill was bottled up in the House for the past year and a half. His next challenge is to try to get Congress to approve a continuing resolution on appropriations by Dec. 11 to keep the government running into the new year. Republicans warned that Obama's executive orde to defer deportation of four million undocumented immigrants with family ties to citizens or green-card holders will poison his relations with Republicans in Congress. As if there were any good faith among those Republicans, who plotted on the night Obama was inaugurated to obstruct him at every turn. One of the conspirators, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) even suggested the GOP follow the model of the Taliban in its legislative insurgency.

If Obama gets that continuing resolution, the current suspension of the debt limit, expires on March 15 under the new Congress. The US Treasury may be able to meet the government’s obligations for a few months after that, but at some point Republican leaders will have to talk sense into the Teabaggers who are itching to shut down the government, impeach the President and/or repeal Obamacare at all costs.

Michael Tomasky noted at (Nov. 15), we shouldn’t expect much from the Republicans. “Their idea of a ‘negotiation’ is not ‘you give us Keystone, we’ll give you a few green-energy programs and tax credits.’ Their idea of a negotiation is, ‘you give us Keystone, and we won’t impeach you.’ Or ‘you give us Keystone, and we may refrain from throwing the world financial markets into turmoil.’ There’s very little point in Obama even trying to deal with them.”

One thing Obama can do is tell Boehner and McConnell not to bother sending him bills that don’t have the support of a majority of Democrats in their respective chambers, as Boehner for the past four years has refused to allow votes on bills that don’t have the support of a majority of his Republican members. And Democratic members of Congress shouldn’t be afraid to oppose Obama if, as expected, he pursues approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership “free trade” deal.

Republicans claim their majority in the midterm constitutes a mandate to stop Obama. They think the 37.3 million Americans who voted for Republican congressional candidates in the midterms, a 52% majority of the 36.4% of the electorate that actually turned out to vote — in the lowest turnout for a general election since 1942 — overrules the 65.9 million Americans who returned Obama to the White House in 2012. That was a 51.1% majority of the 58.7% who turned out for that presidential election.

The midterm was the first election since the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision last April, which removed overall federal limits on contributions to political candidates, parties and political action committees. With the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed the proliferation of “dark money” super PACs that can run political ads but don’t have to disclose their donors, those two right-wing rulings altered the political landscape and made political candidates even more dependent upon monied interests.

The Center for Responsive Politics expects that this year’s midterm election cost $3.67 billion, a slight uptick over the price tag of the 2010 midterm. Counting all forms of spending — by candidates, parties and outside groups — “Team Red” is projected to have spent $1.75 billion for Republican candidates, while “Team Blue” spending was projected to ring in at $1.64 billion.

But spending by candidates actually went down, from $1.8 billion in 2010 to $1.5 billion this year. The cost of the average winning campaign in both the House and Senate declined, as measured by the money spent by the candidates themselves — even as the total cost of the election increased. That’s because this year outside groups did much of the heavy lifting, outspending the candidates in 36 races, CRP’s Russ Choma noted at “That’s a new dynamic in elections: These groups — dozens of them devoted to a single candidate — are increasingly buying ads, getting out the vote, doing opposition research and taking on other activities that have usually been up to campaigns to execute.”

Republicans dramatically reduced their reliance on small donors who gave $200 or less, while Democrats leaned on them slightly more than in 2010. But Washington-based consultants, in the hopes of keeping the door open to big-money contributors, may have stifled many Democratic candidates from making more populist appeals to the working class.

The most expensive congressional contest was in North Carolina’s Senate race, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) was defeated by state House Speaker Thom Tillis. As of Oct. 25, that race cost $113.4 million, led by $81 million spent by outside groups. That shattered the previous outside spending record of $52.4 million in the 2012 Virginia Senate race. Two other Senate races also bested that earlier outside spending record: Colorado ($69.2 million of $97 million total) and Iowa ($61.7 million of $85.3 million total).

CRP also noted that while outside groups supporting Hagan in North Carolina spent a reported $37.2 million, besting the $33.1 million reported for the other side, Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) dark money group, claimed to have spent at least $9 million on “issue ads” targeting Hagan that never had to be disclosed. Unreported spending by outside groups almost certainly exceeded $100 million, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

The election also showed how poorly the electorate is served by the corporate media, which allowed Republicans to peddle disinformation about the economic recovery under President Obama, which has gone about as far as it can without the sort of public works program that could put millions more Americans back to work. The media also ignores the success of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 10 million Americans get health insurance and has held down premium increases while Republican governors prevented five million working poor from getting health care from Medicaid, which contributes to the deaths of as many as 17,000 low-income Americans annually. And, in the weeks before the election, the corporate media were complicit in GOP demagoguery over the government’s handling of the Ebola virus, which was mocked until after the election, when it turned out there really was no cause for panic.

Under the constant drumbeat of misinformation that blamed Obama and the Democrats for the gridlock that almost entirely was engineered by the GOP, it’s not that much of a surprise that two-thirds of the electorate stayed home from the midterms, and the two-thirds who showed up voted for what they were told was change.

It’s going to be a tough two years, but Obama and the Democrats need to do a much better job of explaining what the battles are about and showing white working-class voters who have abandoned the Dems over the past 20 years that Democrats will fight for their interests over those of the corporate executive class. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2014

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