Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Is Our Planet Doomed?

Posted by Eric on June 29, 2009

Barack Obama and Al Gore
I don’t know the answer to that, but I will say that the vast majority of climate scientists fear catastrophic consequences if carbon emissions are not severely curbed. The American Clean Energy and Security Act was passed on Friday by seven votes. The bill is an insufficient answer to the threats posed by global warming, yet nearly half of a Democratic-controlled congress voted against it, and it still has to make its way through the Senate. In his column today, Paul Krugman calls legislative opposition “treason against the planet.” But what political solutions are there to passing stronger legislation when nearly all Republicans are guilty of so-called environmental treason?

Again, I don’t really know the answer. But it is worth pointing out that the stars were really aligned here: Nancy Pelosi made a huge push for this bill and Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lit up House Members’ phone lines. While Neil Sinhababu wonders if the congress might be better off without Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, I think it’s important to note that Peterson bucked strong constituent pressures and reached a compromise with bill-author Henry Waxman — providing conservative members of the Ag Committee sufficient cover to vote for the bill. Al Gore may have also, fittingly, been a key to passage. Though Gore opted against a public push for the Act, I have it on very good word that Gore was on the phones with some last-minute undecideds. While appearing publicly with Gore may have been out of the question, it seems that getting a call from a former Vice-President urging you to vote for his pet issue is actually pretty effective, because Gore managed to change some minds and personally get some more conservative Democrats to vote the right way.

I guess the point of this all is to show how much work went into getting a bare majority of the House to vote for climate change legislation. There is no guarantee that the Senate will do the same and for global warming to be adequately addressed we really need something much stronger from both the House and Senate. Should future elections shift the congress even slightly to the right, then the planet burns. The only way to imagine getting a much better bill in the near future is if Obama decides to really use the bully pulpit and make the case directly to American people that the planet is in peril and we need to act now. But like health care, he seems unwilling to make this case and instead irresponsibly opposes important provisions in the bill. It’s hard to feel great about a first step when the second step seems improbable and the third step seems impossible. But I guess there are more important things to worry about, like, what’s gonna happen with Michael Jackson’s kids?

Posted in Environment, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should Obama NOT Do More On Health Care?

Posted by Eric on June 23, 2009

So says Ezra Klein. Yesterday I worried that Obama needed to get out there and make the case to Senators and the American public about the necessity of reform and a public option, but Ezra thinks this type of argument is misguided:

For now, the White House should have as little to do as possible with the various legislative products. Let the committees absorb the blows of the bad weeks. Let the early coalitions present themselves. Let the Republicans show their strategy in the mark-up sessions. Let the CBO score all the different options. Let the legislature familiarize itself with different revenue options. Wait. Wait and wait and wait. Wait until Congress has pushed this as far upfield as it’s able.

Then open up the White House. Then have Obama on TV. Then have Rahm on the phone with legislators. Then take Olympia Snowe for a ride on Marine One. The White House can exert explosive force on a piece of legislation, but it can only do so effectively for a short period of time. That was the mistake Clinton White House made in 1994. By the time their legislation was near reality, administration officials were so deeply involved that they couldn’t add external momentum. It is not a mistake that Rahm Emmanuel, who watched it all happen firsthand, means to repeat.

That’s a reasonable argument, but I’m not entirely convinced. Though the mistakes of 1994 aren’t being repeated, I worry that the administration may be so jittery about Clinton’s failure at reform that they are making the inverse of Clinton’s errors. Whereas Clinton tried to push a very specific package and froze out many Democrats and the entire Republican caucus, I fear Obama will leave all specifics to congress and yield too much to an obstinate and deeply unpopular Republican caucus. And if the legislature comes to a consensus for a weak and toothless health care package, it may not matter how hard Obama drums support for deeper reforms. Once enough Senators come out on the record against a public plan, it will be an excruciatingly difficult task to force them to back down. And that’s a very real possibility.

This isn’t to say that the administration shouldn’t save a trump card or two for the end, but it would be reassuring if the White House was doing and saying more now.

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Obama, the Public Plan and the Bully Pulpit

Posted by Eric on June 22, 2009

Obama Health CareSweeping health care reform looks to be faltering. The public option, a government-run insurance plan that competes with private insurance, may be nixed in the final bill altogether. This would ostensibly be the time for Barack Obama to champion the public option as he makes his way across the country touting the necessity of health care reform. He could forcefully make the case for a public plan and ask the crowd (and TV viewers) to call their senators and demand action. But he isn’t doing that. As Paul Krugman notes, “centrist” Democratic Senators like Blanche Lincoln from small states where “one or at most two private insurers dominate the market” have been wary of the public plan. And this makes sense since powerful insurance companies can raise lots of money for a  candidate. But you know who else can raise a lot of money? Barack Obama. Obama and Joe Biden could spend a couple hours calling major bundlers for each of these Democrats and, I suspect, raise as much or more than the insurance companies would. That, along with a public crusade for a public option could conceivably go a long way. But neither seems to be occuring.

Obama is a clear-cut pragmatist, sometimes to a frustrating degree. Some liberals are starting to wish there was more truth to the “socialist” and “leftwinger” labels that conservatives have been hurling at the president. But there’s never been any real reason to believe that Obama harbors any radical impulses. Even the fake reasons, like Jeremiah Wright, are probably just twisted evidence that Obama has always been as cautious and pragmatic as he is today. He had a radical black reverend when he was a state senator from a heavily black district in Chicago. When he was running for president in what’s still a heavily white country, he severed ties with Wright.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama has been dismissive of gay rights and willing to bend to conservative framing on matters like deficit reduction because he was stocking up on the political capital to ram through the big issues. But this is the big issue! And Obama is staying almost entirely out of the specifics of reform. That may change, or maybe his cautious approach has some justification I am missing. We will look back years from now and truly reflect on the wisdom (or lackthereof) of that strategy. But right now, it’s very worrying.

Posted in Health Care, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »