It is true that President Obama’s term in office began during the worst economic downturn in the United States in more than seventy-five years. It is also true that the President inherited two wars along with ecological problems, energy dependency, a health insurance crisis, and a massive deficit. So what happened with President Obama and the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress? He negotiated his way to mediocrity.
Let’s assume that President Obama is a moderate Democrat with some liberal ideas. One liberal idea that Obama once said he supported was single payer health care. So why after he became President, did he start the health care debate by saying that “single payer is off the table”? Even the people selling things in pawn stores know that you don’t give away too much before the negotiations begin.
Obama didn’t push for single payer health care at all. He backed down before the discussion started. What’s the worst that could have happened? What if Obama had supported the single payer bill pushed by progressive Democrats and the Republicans and Conservative Democrats had rejected it? After it failed, he could have gone to his back up position, a public option. He would have looked like the compromiser instead of the capitulator, and he would have honored progressives by at least putting his support behind their bill. Even if he had changed his mind, he would have backed up his earlier statements and pleased a huge part of his base. But President Obama started out in a weak position by not pushing single payer first. The argument on whether Obama still supports single payer health care can be had elsewhere.
Another rebuff of progressives was keeping the Bush era tax cuts. The Republicans were holding unemployment hostage, among other things, and so Obama felt compelled to continue the Bush era tax cuts for those making over $250,000. Also at the end of 2010, as Obama backed down on ending the tax cuts thus giving more money to those that had enough already, he called for a freeze in pay to all federal workers. Now I know some Democrats find a freeze in pay while funding the wealthy fine and dandy, to give more money to those who don’t need it and then freeze salaries on working families, but as you can imagine, this angered quite a few progressives who had expected that Obama would fulfill this promise. It seemed like a forgone conclusion that didn’t take any Congressional action for the tax cuts were set to expire on January 1st, 2011. And, it would have happened before the new Republican dominated House took office on January 6th. Instead of calling on the top bracket to pay their share, Congress and the White House would have to find another way to balance the budget; for example, cuts to social programs like education and health care.
Ignoring the progressive caucus’s People’s Budget is another slight to progressives among dozens. The People’s Budget is more fiscally sound than any other budget proposal in the offing. And of course, Obama doesn’t want to taut it over his own tepid budget, although his is miles better than the Ryan plan.
The latest slight to progressives is ignoring the pleas to nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the agency she help create, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Obama has received tens of thousands of letters supporting her nomination, but to no avail.
Obama’s reasons for not choosing Warren comes down to the same old conceit; he can’t win. Again, when Obama has a chance to make his case and embarrass the Republican party for their narrow pursuit of protecting the interests of the banks before the people, he echews the opportunity.
Republicans have stated clearly that they wouldn’t accept any nomination for this post. There will be a fight, regardless of the nominee. So why back down from your first choice? Is it because Obama doesn’t respect nor care about what the progressives in his party think?
As David Lazarus makes clear in the LA Times, it wasn’t about Warren. Republicans won’t pick anyone for the agency the way it is constituted. “But in my chats with agency insiders, it was similarly clear that the real fight wasn’t about Warren. It was about a demand from the banking industry and its GOP cronies that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be run by a five-person board rather than a single director.” (ibid)
So why not please the progressives for a change and support her nomination, especially if all nominations to this post will be summarily rejected by Republicans?
As one insider added, “”Obama doesn’t look good not standing up for Warren. The agency was her idea. She’s done all the hard work. This seems like a slap in the face to Warren.””
Lazarus continues, “And now, despite the harsh lessons of the mortgage meltdown and repeated bailouts of reckless and rapacious Wall Street firms, the GOP is stubbornly attempting to cripple a new agency charged with overseeing credit cards, mortgages, payday loans and other financial products that are easily abused by businesses.”
The good news is that Obama vows to fight! I’d laugh if I wasn’t crying.