On the same-old Washington
From the Feb. 16 The Eagle, Bryan-College Station, Texas:
One only had to watch the contrast between Joe Biden and John Boehner during the State of the Union to know that any lessons learned from the November election have been forgotten.
There was a grinning Vice President Biden leaping to his feet time and again at President Barack Obama’s scripted applause lines. And then there was a morose and moribund House Speaker Boehner looking as if would rather be having a root canal ‚Äî with no anesthetic.
In other words, nothing has changed since Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected and the House remained firmly in Republican hands. Any hope for compromise on much of anything has frittered away.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Republican response to the president was so predictable it could have been written months ago.
Of course, we didn’t hear what we needed to hear from the president. There was no explanation of any plans for reducing the overwhelming federal debt that is dragging this country down and stalling economic recovery efforts. Maybe he has none. If he does, we ask that he kindly share them with the rest of us. ...
There are many serious issues facing this nation ‚Äî immigration reform, security, a return to economic prosperity, health care, gun control ‚Äî that it will take a coordinated effort from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sadly, with the Democrats the party of “been there, done that” and the Republicans the party of “not only no, but hell no,” that doesn’t appear likely.
As we have said many times in the past, this country runs best when governed from the middle. ...
We simply cannot continue along the same path that has led us to too many cliffs in recent years.
On marriage fading in mid-America
From the Feb. 15 The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.:
The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project has released another disturbing report. It reiterates that marriage remains strong for college-educated couples ‚Äî but it’s disintegrating in “Middle America,” the nearly 60 percent of the populace with only high school diplomas.
As the gulf between affluent Americans and the less-privileged keeps widening, vast numbers of high school graduates apparently can’t find careers solid enough to support secure families.
“Among that group, 44 percent of children are now born outside of marriage, up sharply from 13 percent in the 1980s,” the project says. This bodes ill because “children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems ‚Äî including drug use, depression, attempted suicide and dropping out of high school ‚Äî compared to children in intact married families.”
The Institute for American Values, which helped write the report, said: “The retreat from marriage is both a cause and a consequence of increasing inequality in America.”
Dr. William Galston of the Brookings Institution added: “We believe marriage is a fundamental building block of American society, and marriage is in trouble. That is contributing to widening class divides .... Societies suffer when marriage falters.”
To boost wedlock among less-affluent high school graduates, the National Marriage Project report urges various efforts such as more specialized job training, and “triple the child tax credit to shore up the economic foundations of family life in Middle America.”
Previously, the Project warned that fading wedlock among high school graduates may mean “that we will witness the emergence of a new society. For a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children’s life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life.” ...
On repurposing the State of the Union address
From the Feb. 14 Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.:
When the most memorable moment of the Capitol’s State of the Union evening involves rising Republican star Marco Rubio lunging for a water bottle, it’s a sure sign this tradition is badly in need of rethinking.
Florida’s freshman senator was not even the featured attraction. Rubio was delivering the Republican rebuttal to the main event, President Barack Obama’s second nationally televised ceremonial address in less than a month, the first being his inspiring inaugural address.
Rubio’s theme: Big government is bad. He was not alone in rebutting the president. Kentucky GOP freshman Sen. Rand Paul rebutted on behalf of the tea party movement. ...
The State of the Union has developed the annoying ritual of the president’s party standing and wildly cheering at each applause point while the other party sits grim-faced and arms folded. The Republicans cheer anything that sounds like a tax cut. Everybody cheers for the troops, whom the president committed to bring home from Afghanistan in substantial numbers. Sadly, Congress was cheering even though we have not won that war, and at this point, are extremely unlikely to. That’s not quite the same thing as cheering for losing a war, but it’s close. ...
As formulaic and ineffective as the State of the Union speech has become, it now serves a new and useful role: In an increasingly polarized Congress, it is one of the few times all the members gather together to be reminded of their common purpose.
Too bad that reminder is so swiftly forgotten.
On confirming Chuck Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense
From the Feb. 18 The Seattle Times:
Republicans in the U.S. Senate are wrong to filibuster the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense. They should let a vote go forward without delay, and confirm him.
Hagel is a former member of their caucus, and on matters of war the two-term senator from Nebraska was the most levelheaded among them. He saw combat in Vietnam and was twice wounded.
He knows war. He knows how war so often turns out much more painfully than the visions of the keyboard belligerents who promote it. Hagel was the first Republican in the Senate to come out against the Iraq war, and he was right.
Sen. John McCain, who ought to know better, now badgers Hagel for doubting the “surge” in Iraq. Wasn’t it a success? Short term, it was, just as President Richard Nixon’s bombing in Vietnam was. Long term, it is unlikely the surge made any difference in Iraq. That country has its own political culture. So does Afghanistan.
The Senate obstructionists want an America with more boldness and resolve. Sometimes that’s what a country needs. Not now. Our government has been bold on bad advice. Its resolve has become an unwillingness to see. Our leaders need to think more and shoot less.
There is also the matter of federal spending. The budget is still $900 million out of balance almost four years after the recession’s official end. Spending has to come down, and that includes the military. Hagel understands that.
Our Democratic president ran in 2008 as an opponent of the Iraq war. In practice, President Barack Obama was not nearly as skeptical of war, especially in Afghanistan, as many of his supporters hoped. With Hagel, the president has a chance to pursue a more cautious policy about overseas military commitments and focus on reform and recovery at home.
On raising the minimum wage
From the Feb. 14 The Advertiser-Tribune, Tiffin, Ohio:
Some extra land was discovered Feb. 12 within the 3.79 million square miles of the United States. It was the common ground found during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
The president proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 an hour by 2016 and linking future increases to inflation.
Obama argued this could benefit employers.
“For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets,” he said during the speech.
His logic is this: Business owners would get a boost from the economic impact that would result from putting more money into the hands of more Americans.
This is the exact argument conservatives are making in regard to lowering tax rates. This is the common ground.
There’s another aspect to the president’s stance.
“Corporate profits have skyrocketed to an all-time high,” Obama said. “But it’s also true that for more than a decade, wages and incomes haven’t gone up at all.” ...
So, we can agree that getting more money in the pockets of Americans would be good for the economy, not to mention the citizens. But how should that be accomplished? Get employers to raise wages? Or reduce tax rates? ...
On where are the jobs and wage increases
From the Feb. 19 The Grand Island Independent, Neb.:
The nation is in the midst of economic recovery which began over three years ago. Financial markets have revived, home starts and prices are beginning to perk up, and business profits are growing.
One part of the economy isn’t faring very well, however, and it is the part that all politicians profess to care about the most: the middle class and those toward the bottom of the economic rung. Job growth is anemic, with unemployment stuck at 7.9 percent. Wage growth is non-existent, and real median household incomes are falling. ...
Why has this recovery been so sluggish? For three years, interest rates have been artificially held at historical low levels. The federal government has spent billions in stimulus programs designed to recharge the economy. Why haven’t hiring and wage growth followed?
Many argue that the problem is with government policies that actually inhibit growth, instead of promoting it. With the national elections over, activist regulators are firmly entrenched in Washington for the next four years. The EPA and other agencies are expected to redouble their efforts to use the power of government, in the name of protecting the middle class.
As a result, business leaders are bracing for a slew of new rules and regulations that are designed to restrict, control or punish, rather than encourage expansion. Other headwinds include the uncertainty of Obamacare, as the benefit of controlling costs is discredited. Competitive energy costs are vital to manufacturing, but government claims to embrace cheap energy are contradicted by actions that actually impede it. ...
Our economy is ready to grow at rates far faster than the past three years. To do it, businesses must adapt to today’s circumstances, and grow in spite of them.
But it sure would help if government was a motor, not an anchor.