<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Uretsky Obama's Legacy Thus Far

Sam Uretsky

Obama’s Legacy Thus Far

Every cloud has a silver lining but some need more silver polish than others. In the 2014 election, the Democrats got whomped. The “Pubs”, who had managed to be on the wrong side of every economic issue and had a narrow minded record on social issues that their party could be used as a cheese slicer, took control of both houses of Congress. That’s a promise of two lousy years assuming they can get their act together, and not a lot better even if they can’t.

On the other hand, it seems as if President Obama spent the day after the electoral disaster humming Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee”. That’s the song with the classic line “freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing left to lose’.” If the Democrats had won the election, even to the extent of holding on to a majority in the Senate, President Obama would have been constrained to walk softly in order to protect a few house or senate seats. Instead, he seems to have been liberated, reaching an agreement with China on greenhouse gas emissions, tightening other environmental regulations, and changing policy on deportation of undocumented aliens.

In 2008, President Obama ran on the slogan, “Yes we can,” only to discover that the Republicans had buttons saying “not if we can help it.” Now he seems to have come up with the slogan, “Yes I can” which is very different. Congress can block a lot of President Obama’s programs, but it will keep them too busy to do much damage on their own. Meanwhile, by presenting a tax plan that’s actually progressive, and proposing making community colleges free, the President has opened the bidding on 2016 in a way that may get some attention. In a political climate where there normally isn’t much discussion of the actual issues, the President is opening the discussion early enough so that somebody may actually notice. It also largely ties the hands of anyone running for the Democratic nomination. While the proposal itself has a snowball’s chance of getting through Congress, as John Cassidy already wrote in The New Yorker, the next Democratic nominee can’t just go to the public and promise to do what President Obama said to do. Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker website, suggested that the tax proposal would start a political bidding war, all this while the Republican contenders have to satisfy Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers.

As presented, President Obama’s proposal would raise the tax rate on capital gains for high earners from 23.5% to 28% and also do away with the “step up in basis” tax loophole which allows estates to skip paying capital gains taxes. This provision in the tax code says, basically, that if your rich uncle bought a stock for $2 and held it, so that when you inherit, the stock is selling for $200, you aren’t obligated to pay a capital gains tax – it’s as if he bought the stock at $200. This break obviously benefits the super-wealthy whose fortunes are tied to inheritance of a family business. The proceeds would be directed to middle class couples and an increase in the tax credits for college students. With the federal deficit dropping, concerns about the deficit is less justified, and it’s a good time to boost the consumer economy and try to revive the middle class, or whatever is left of it.

The problem is that while Obama’s proposals make economic and social sense, so did his recommendations of massive infrastructure repairs. The Republicans blocked a Hudson River tunnel that’s badly needed, and high speed rail in Florida both of which would have meant loads of jobs and a major economic stimulus. They’ve blocked the expansion of Medicaid in the southeast, where poverty is the worst and health care is most needed. Republican politicians turned back efforts at unionization of the workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, even though VW itself wanted a union they can deal with. The Economic Policy Institute analyzed the effects of right to work laws, used by southern states to block unions by allowing workers to work in unionized plants without paying union dues, “reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for both union and nonunion workers.” The statistics are all in favor of an agenda of unions and universities – and Mitch McConnell is still the majority leader of the Senate.

It’s hard to tell what will happen to the President’s proposals. Democratic voters do tend to come out more often in years with a presidential election, so that the youth voters and the less financially secure may turn up and vote for their own benefit. If they do, President Obama’s proposals, or something even better, might be implemented, and would go a long way to correcting the inequality that has held the United States back.

And here’s the kicker – Presidents worry about their legacy. President Obama turned the country around during the lesser recession, passed an expansion of health care, and got us out of a couple of wars, but mostly he has been stymied by political intransigence. It would be nice if his real legacy, a revival of American middle class prosperity and expansion of public education, came after he left office. And isn’t that what legacy means?

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2015


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