The first thing you need to do is go read Ryan Lizza's piece in the New Yorker entitled "The Obama Memos". I can tell already this is one of those stories that is going to have some staying power with me. It's a fantastic snapshot of what the president has had to face: the hard reality of governance, and his promises to the nation. It's never as easy as it sounds. It's never as easy as it should be. My takeaway was that the man has been working hard to strike a balance to forge solution to serious problems, hammer out critical issues, and come to resolution on impossibly complex decisions.
In the meantime, the unserious clowns of the GOP have actually done a pretty good job of diverting the national conversation towards making contraception the new crack cocaine (something that will just never, ever happen). It is not that hard to collectiveley distract our broken media apparatus. Oh look, shiny keys.
And while the distraction continues (and here I confess my complicity in it), Democrats have been winning on issues with a more immediate impact nationally, and engaging in those same kind of impactful issues locally.
I'm talking about budget politics. This isn't to say the debate about contraception (and yes, abortion) isn't important -- it is critically important. But it also serves largely as a device to A.) define the likes of Rick Santorum (and other Republican politicians) as far away from Obama (and I'd argue the mainstream) as possible, B.) to engage moderate Catholics and array them against the Obama Administration, and C.) to distract from successes in the Obama Administration.
The Obama Administration presented their budget the other day, and it's pretty good. (Is it good? Who knows! Surely there is some sort of national fact checking organization who could give us the ins and outs of this complicated "political" document, right? Hey! I know. How about PolitiFact! After all, they and their national media partners "help you find the truth in politics." Sounds like just the group we need to address this serious issu... wait, what? Oh, sorry. They can't help us out on this one. They are too busy fact-checking the hit television show "Glee". Thanks for wasting everyone's time, PolitiFact. And when I talk about our "broken media apparatus," don't you ever doubt me again.)
Of course, the fact that a blogger like me (and Jeff Madrick, linked above) would call it "good" ought to indicate to you that it is likely going nowhere in Congress.
So we now have a pretty good budget proposal from the president — that is, if we are content to put it in political context. Above all, the economy still needs stimulus, and he wants to extend the payroll taxes. The Republicans seem to have caved on the issue, a sign American voters may be waking up from their long sleep.
But more important, he is now willing to make proposals that will not win congressional support, a strategy he and his Clinton holdover advisers long resisted. He would tax high incomes at 30 percent, the Buffett tax. He would raise taxes on dividends for better-off Americans to the ordinary rates, and raise the capital gains tax as well. He will refuse to endorse a tax cut for those who make more than $250,000 a year — that is, he will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the well off. Remember, he threw in the towel on that one in December 2010, a stunning concession. If Republicans say no, they will now bear the stigma going into the election.
I think calling it a campaign document, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did, is a bit much, but we can all certainly agree that it likely won't go anywhere.
Unless it does.
After all, Republicans totally caved on the payroll tax.
Congressional negotiators reached a tentative deal Tuesday to extend a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and Medicare payment rates for doctors, while finding more than $50 billion in cuts to reduce the effect on the federal deficit.
While President Obama and congressional leaders publicly jousted over the negotiations, senior Democrats and Republicans worked behind the scenes toward a compromise that would extend the tax and unemployment benefits through the year. A deal also would mean that doctors would not see a drop in rates paid by Medicare, according to senior aides in both parties.
Hell, if they can agree on that, maybe we can hope that they'll pass this budget, too.