Barack Obama and The Democratic Party’s Extraordinary Legislative Success

Despite a strategy of trying to block everything, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had many legislative accomplishments during the first year, making Obama the most productive president in modern times. A look at legislative achievements also leaves out accomplishments such as executive orders to end the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and to end the global gag order. Norman Ornstein has summarized Obama’s legislative achievements:

There seems to be little to endear citizens to their legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It’s too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.

The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was far more than an injection of $787 billion in government spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-third of it — $288 billion — came in the form of tax cuts, making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy production as well as home-buying and college tuition. The stimulus also promised $19 billion for the critical policy arena of health-information technology, and more than $1 billion to advance research on the effectiveness of health-care treatments.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school districts across the country. There were also massive investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access.

Any Congress that passed all these items separately would be considered enormously productive. Instead, this Congress did it in one bill. Lawmakers then added to their record by expanding children’s health insurance and providing stiff oversight of the TARP funds allocated by the previous Congress. Other accomplishments included a law to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco, the largest land conservation law in nearly two decades, a credit card holders’ bill of rights and defense procurement reform.

The House, of course, did much more, including approving a historic cap-and-trade bill and sweeping financial regulatory changes. And both chambers passed their versions of a health-care overhaul. Financial regulation is working its way through the Senate, and even in this political environment it is on track for enactment in the first half of this year. It is likely that the package of job-creation programs the president showcased on Wednesday, most of which got through the House last year, will be signed into law early on as well.

Most of this has been accomplished without any support from Republicans in either the House or the Senate — an especially striking fact, since many of the initiatives of the New Deal and the Great Society, including Social Security and Medicare, attracted significant backing from the minority Republicans.

How did it happen? Democrats, perhaps recalling the disasters of 1994, when they failed to unite behind Bill Clinton’s agenda in the face of uniform GOP opposition, came together. Obama’s smoother beginning and stronger bonds with congressional leaders also helped.

But even with robust majorities, Democratic leaders deserve great credit for these achievements. Democratic ideologies stretch from the left-wing views of Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Maxine Waters in the House to the conservative approach of Ben Nelson in the Senate and Bobby Bright in the House, with every variation in between. Finding 219 votes for climate-change legislation in the House was nothing short of astonishing; getting all 60 Senate Democrats to support any version of major health-care reform, an equal feat. The White House strategy — applying pressure quietly while letting congressional leaders find ways to build coalitions — was critical.

While health care reform did not pass in the first year, there are still signs that Congress will not just let it die as it did after Hillary Clinton failed years ago.

SciFi Weekend: Dollhouse Ends; Caprica Rebirth; Lost After the Bomb; Billie Piper on Doctor Who Movie, and Merlin Receives the Conan Treatment

Epitaph One was a brilliant idea for a clip show after the first season of Dollhouse but it left far too much open to conclude in a single hour. Epitaph Two, the series finale, has the look of a show written to quickly tie everything up with as happy an ending as is possible. (Note major spoilers here).

The episode begins with the people who found the Dollhouse and restored Echo’s memories in a child in Epitaph One but does have them meet up with major characters from the series. (Without any explanation, however, Whiskey is no longer present in the Dollhouse as she was in the first part). When they ultimately reached the safe haven it was disappointing to see it look like little more than a farm house with a handful of people. I imagine we couldn’t expect more for a single episode.

The journey to the safe haven included escaping from Neuropolis, the remains of Rossum’s empire, and rescuing Topher. Rossum was forcing Topher to create a device to wipe the minds of the remaining humans but instead he was working on a way to reverse the mind wipes and restore everyone to their original state. To complete this necessitated a return to the Dollhouse. This led to Paul’s death and a reunion with Alpha, which was happier than anticipated.

Everything was wrapped up far too neatly. The memories were restored, but this doesn’t change the fact that the earth is in ruins and it is possible that the technology could be used again. Problems which grew over the past several years between Tony/Victor (who took on a Mad Max persona) and Priya/Sierra were quickly resolved. It was forgotten that Paul’s feelings for Caroline/Echo had been wiped, but I imagine that the could have returned over a decade. Even Paul’s death led to a happy ending as his memories were added to the large collection in Caroline/Echo’s head, with Echo remaining underground in the Dollhouse for a year to prevent her from reverting to her original state.

Rebirth was the first regular episode of Caprica to air since the pilot which was released on DVD months ago. We know how things ultimately end with the Cylons developing into a robot race which turns on their human masters, but there are many story lines beginning. Whether the show is a success will depend more upon these story  lines as opposed to the overall arc.

Much of the show depends upon secrets. Zoe is keeping her presence in the Cylon’s body secret. Her father, while not really knowing she survived, seems to somehow still know she is not totally dead, leaving him uninterested in a memorial service. He is keeping this from Amanda. Amanda is shown to also be oblivious to much of Zoe’s life, including her boy friend. I did find it unrealistic when Amanda learned some information at the end that her first instinct was to speak out in public about her daughter being a terrorist as opposed to protecting her, or at least seeking more information first.

There are additional stories also being developed, from a polygamous relationship which seemed less dramatic as compared to those on Big Love to a young Willie Adama being instructed in a life a crime (which we know he never took up) by an uncle. There is a lot to work with in this series, giving it considerable promise.

The final season of Lost premieres on Tuesday and the first four minutes, including what happens after the bomb goes off, is seen in the video above. There are many interviews with the cast and crew (such as here) but little real information is revealed. The video does reveal, as most suspected, that the explosion would reset everything as opposed to killing off the cast. There has also been speculation as to whether Claire returns alive or as a ghost. Emilie de Ravin did tell TV Guide, “I think I’m alive, as far as I know.” That’s about as definite as anything anyone is saying about the final season.

Blogator Who has posted the audio of an interview with Billie Piper on the Scot Mills Show in which she was asked about a movie adaptation of Doctor Who. Her response: “they are doing it.” Tardis and Torchwood Treasures reports on another interview with Piper in which she says she does not believe she will appear again as Rose.

Despite NBC being desperate to fill five hours left open by Jay Leno returning to The Tonight Show, prospects are not looking good for the pilot David Tennant filmed entitled Rex is Not My Lawyer. The series has been placed on hold and the sets are being taken down.

NBC will also not be filling these hours by airing the BBC version of Merlin as they did last summer but American audiences will still be able to see the second season. Instead of showing it on NBC, it will be shown on SyFy, which is also owned by NBC Universal. I guess now Merlin knows how Conan O’Brien feels. SyFy will also rerun the first season before showing the second. The BBC has also picked up the series for a third season.

Current Facebook Status: The Function of the Right Wing Noise Machine

The main function of Fox, talk radio, and the rest of the right wing noise machine is to keep conservatives misinformed about the actual views of liberals so they can retain their support for the right and blind hatred against everyone else.

Justice Department Looking at BCS

I really do not like the current Bowl Championship Series in college football. If the old system sometimes failed in choosing a college national championship by a vote after the New Year’s Day bowls, the new system is no better in picking the only two teams which can contend for the national championship after the end of the regular season. As faulty as the old system was, at least it kept several possibilities open depending upon how the New Year’s Day bowls played out. The current system also makes the New Year’s Day bowls, and all other bowls other than the single national championship game, almost meaningless. Either a return to the previous system or a play off would be preferable to the BCS.

As much as I do not like the BCS, and many other things in the world for that matter, it is not the role of government to step in and fix everything. Previously there has been talk of Congress investigating. Now the Justice Department is getting involved:

The Obama administration is considering several steps that would review the legality of the controversial Bowl Championship Series, the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to a senator who had asked for an antitrust review.

In the letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, obtained by The Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the Justice Department is reviewing Hatch’s request and other materials to determine whether to open an investigation into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.

“Importantly, and in addition, the administration also is exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football postseason,” Weich wrote, including asking the Federal Trade Commission to review the legality of the BCS under consumer protection laws.

Several lawmakers and many critics want the BCS to switch to a playoff system, rather than the ratings system it uses to determine the teams that play in the championship game.

“The administration shares your belief that the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football … raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties,” Weich wrote.

Weich made note of the fact that President Barack Obama, before he was sworn in, had stated his preference for a playoff system. In 2008, Obama said he was going to “to throw my weight around a little bit” to nudge college football toward a playoff system, a point that Hatch stressed when he urged Obama last fall to ask the department to investigate the BCS.

Weich said that other options include encouraging the NCAA to take control of the college football postseason; asking a governmental or non-governmental commission to review the costs, benefits and feasibility of a playoff system; and legislative efforts aimed at prompting a switch to a playoff system.

Obama Kicks GOP Ass

Here’s why we voted for Barack Obama. Above is a clip of Obama discussing health care at the GOP House Issues Conference. Obama took on and demolished every GOP argument. Whether its Kerry debating Bush, Obama debating McCain, or Obama debating the GOP House delegation, Republican views just cannot stand up to fact-based rational arguments.

Barack Obama vs. 140 Republicans just isn’t a fair fight. The Republicans didn’t stand a chance.

Obama repeatedly took loaded questions packed with all the usual Republican talking points and turned them against them.

The full transcript is available here. It was shown on C-SPAN and MSNBC is also replaying the event in prime time tonight. Marc Ambinder described the event:

Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months. Debating a law professor is kind of foolish: the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president. (By the way: can we stop with the Obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)

More than the State of the Union — or on top of the State of the Union — this may be a pivotal moment for the future of the presidential agenda on Capitol Hill. (Democrats are loving this. Chris Hayes, The Nation‘s Washington bureau chief, tweeted that he hadn’t liked Obama more since the inauguration.)

During the presidential campaign, it was John McCain who proposed a form of the British Prime Ministers’ questions for the president. It was derided as a gimmick. This is no gimmick. I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in…a long time. 90 minutes worth!

Maybe since Al Gore debated Ross Perot on NAFTA. Republicans may have wished they had spoken to John McCain about what happened to him in the presidential debates before they decided to broadcast this session. The president looked genuinely engaged, willing to discuss things. Democrats believe that he tossed away the GOP talking points and lack of real plans into a bludgeon against them. “The whole question was structured by a talking point,” he told Jeb Hensarling. Obama took the blame for not living up to some of his promises on transparency in health care negotiations. He displayed a familiarity with Republican proposals that seemed to astonish those who asked questions of him. And at the end, Republicans rushed up to him, pens and photo cameras in hands, wanting autographs and pictures.

Mused one mid-level White House official: “This really is the best thing we’ve done in a long, long time”

Massachusetts was an eternity ago. The momentum is now in Obama’s direction as he gives the GOP the choice of joining in or walking away, with their decision being televised.

More video:

Tea Party Members Upset About Deficit And Unemployment Are Blaming The Wrong Party

Those in the Tea Party Movement claim to oppose Barack Obama and the Democrats out of an opposition to the rising deficit. If they were really consistent in their views they would be backing the Democrats over the Republicans who are actually responsible for the deficit. Here’s a chart to make this simple for them:

Another comparison of spending under recent presidents was posted here.

They fall for Republican claims that Obama is responsible for record deficits due to the stimulus spending but most of the deficit came from George Bush, not Obama’s stimulus plan. Here is a pie chart breaking this down:

We are also seeing benefits from the stimulus spending, such as the news today that the GNP rose by 5.7 percent–the highest increase since 2003. While this might be exaggerated by a bounce from companies replacing inventory, this remains a sign of greater confidence in the economy. Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers explained:

This inventory bounce, though likely to be transitory, is a normal part of healthy recoveries.  As firms’ confidence in the future increases, their desire to run down inventories wanes.  This change in behavior is often a powerful force for growth early in a recovery.  Other components of GDP also rose strongly:   business investment in equipment and software rose at an annual rate of 13 percent and residential investment rose at a 6 percent rate.  And consumer spending rose at a rate of 2 percent.  This broad-based rise in GDP was surely fueled in part by the tax cuts and investment spending in the Recovery Act and other rescue actions, but some appears to be the result of private sector demand returning.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson believes that if not for the stimulus unemployment could have hit 25 percent. Those who are angry about lack of jobs and the size of the deficit are definitely channeling their rage against the wrong source.

Tea Party Fundraising Email Shows Obama As Stereotypical African-American Pimp

Chris Matthews may or may not be thinking about whether Barack Obama is black this hour but there is one group packed with people who are constantly thinking about this–the tea-baggers. TPM Muckracker found the picture below in one of their emails:

A Tea Party group whose founder already has been in hot water for holding a sign that referred to taxpayers as “niggars” has doubled down on racist appeals., a Houston-based group founded by Dale Robertson, yesterday sent an email fund-raising solicitation, obtained by TPMmuckraker, headlined “Obama Pimping Obama-Care, One Last Time!”

The photograph below — showing the president as a stereotypical African-American pimp, sporting a pencil-thin mustache and a zebra-striped, fur-brimmed fedora, complete with a feather — illustrated the theme:

Sure we believe the denials that the tea-baggers are motivated largely by racism.

90% of Republicans Who Did Not See Obama’s Speech Disagree With It

That’s per Andy Borowitz. I would have guessed the number would be higher.

I forgot Chris Matthews was an idiot for an hour

For the benefit of anyone who missed it last night, Chris Matthews said “I forgot he was black tonight for an hour” after Obama delivered the State of the Union.

He meant well, but most of us have been looking beyond his race for quite a long time (and the portion of the right wing which can’t handle a black man in the White House never will).

First Poll Results Favorable on SOTU

CBS News has has released an instant poll on reaction to Barack Obama’s first State of the Union Address. Here are some of their highlights:

• 83% of speech watchers approve of the proposals the president made in his speech tonight. 17% Disapprove.

• 70% of speech watchers think Barack Obama shares the same priorities for the country as they do. 57% thought so before the speech.

• 59% of speech watchers think that Barack Obama has a clear plan for creating jobs. 40% thought so before the speech.

• 72% of speech watchers approve of Barack Obama’s plans for dealing with government spending. 28% Disapprove. .

• 56% of speech watchers think Barack Obama’s economic plans will reduce the budget deficit in the long run, and 71% think they will help ordinary Americans.

• Still, just 42% of speech watchers think that Barack Obama will be able to accomplish all the goals he set out in his speech tonight. 57% do not think he will be able to.

My comments on the speech were posted here.