Putting an end to months of drama over a potential government shutdown or debt ceiling breach and default, President Obama this week signed a budget agreement that also included a suspension of the debt ceiling until March 2017 – after the bill quickly, and surprisingly, passed through both branches of Congress.
Consider what this development means.
President Obama and the Democratic Congressional minority have just gotten nearly everything they wanted from the Republican majority, and have protected their funding and policy priorities from what was expected to be a Tea Party/Freedom Caucus gut job.
No more arbitrary spending caps from the sequester. No more hostages or shutdowns until at least 2017.
This continues a trend of President Obama and Democratic victories.
Last month President Obama publicly vetoed the Republicans’ NDAA bill and sent it back to Congress to better address military preparedness and to remove accounting tricks to hide wasteful and unneeded military spending.
Several weeks ago, President Obama and the Democratic Congressional minority were able to uphold the Iran nuclear deal despite majority opposition, because earlier this year they insisted that they would only agree to a Congressional “review” that led to a vote on disapproval – and not on an approval, which would have been unlikely or impossible to achieve.
Also, early this year, a bipartisan bill which ended the Medicare “Doc Fix” passed with comfortable majorities – after being kicked down the road for more than 15 years.
And in advance of the Paris climate talks scheduled for December, despite promises by Republican leadership to kill proactive efforts by the Obama administration, emissions-cutting pledges submitted by 146 countries – which cover nearly 90 percent of global emissions – could cut average global emissions per capita of greenhouse gases by up to 8 percent by 2025 and 9 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, a U.N. assessment found, and are a good step toward achieving an international global warming goal, the U.N.’s climate chief said.
And despite Republican obstruction on increasing the federal minimum wage, dozens of local and state governments have done just that in response to President Obama’s urging.
And in spite of intense opposition from labor leaders and Democrats, a finalized draft for the Trans Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreement was recently signed by 12 Asian and Pacific nations and is awaiting review by Congress.
It’s still early, but we finally may be turning a corner on government by crisis and hostage taking.
Too often we get disappointed seeing the short-term political gains the Republicans have reaped in recent years by demonizing the scary black man President Obama: winning both branches of Congress and a majority of state governments, and successfully blocking much of the Democrats’ agenda.
But here’s the good news: the Republicans are losing – and deep down they know it – and President Obama is winning.
Obama, in his upbeat, even-tempered, professional way, is prodding moderates and independents to rethink their political ideologies, encouraging Democrats to sharpen their focus and rethink their priorities and strategies, and inviting independents and moderate Republicans – and even conservatives – to join him in crafting sensible compromises and solutions to the problems that face us all.
In doing so he is exposing and isolating the extremists as those unwilling to do the hard work of coalition-building and self-government.
It has been a long game, yes, and maybe not as immediately satisfying to some Democrats and liberals who would have preferred him to play the part of the stereotypical angry young black rabble rouser.
But with his economic policies that laid the groundwork for recovery, in his domestic policies that protected – and expanded – the social safety net, and in his foreign policies that ended the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon and the neocon policy of preemptive wars, and which pivoted our focus from the Middle East quagmire to the increasingly important Pacific Rim, he is reviving the dream of the American Century and confronting the illusory neocon dream of American Empire.
And when the history of this era is written, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid will be lionized as the most productive and progressive force in a generation.
What they achieved in just a brief period of time with a small Democratic majority, and with razor-thin votes in Congress, hasn’t been matched since the early years of LBJ’s administration. And what they’ve done to protect their priorities since the Republicans won majorities in Congress has been remarkable.
Moreover, since the Republicans succeeded in taking over both chambers of Congress in 2014, Obama has racked up an impressive string of successes:
· Signed an executive order on immigration which affects an estimated 4-5 million people;
· Released stringent new pollution regulations governing the nation’s coal-fired power plants;
· Got a favorable Federal Communications Commission order safeguarding Net Neutrality;
· Eased travel restrictions with Cuba and started talks on normalizing relations;
· Reached a historic agreement with China – the world’s largest polluter –on climate change and emissions, visa reform, trade deal (on tariffs), and an agreement to avert military confrontation;
· Got an understanding with India and Brazil, among the world’s largest polluters, on limiting greenhouse gas emissions;
· Vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline fast-track bill and prevailed at a veto over-ride attempt;
· Got DHS funded for the full fiscal year, along with the rest of his budget;
· Dollar at very high levels, despite the gloom-and-doom warnings of tight-money advocates, and which promises to inject more foreign capital into the U.S.;
· ACA enrollment increased this year to 16 million;
· 67 consecutive months of job growth;
· Seven states and 30 cities take up Obama’s call and raise their minimum wage;
· Obamacare survives second Supreme Court challenge;
· Gay marriage now legal in all 50 states;
· Iran nuclear agreement survives Congressional vote; and
· Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement signed by 12 countries and is now awaiting review by Congress.
This was not supposed to happen. Obama was supposed to be a lame duck, demoralized and irrelevant going into 2015. But Obama refuses to play the game by the Republicans’ rules, and in so doing he highlights their inaction and fecklessness.
Worse for them, President Obama is setting the agenda going into the 2016 election season.
Much remains to be done. This work will take years and future administrations, but the groundwork is being laid. And Obama is preparing and inspiring a new generation of leadership with his management style, which the Republicans deride as “leading from behind” but which is actually a progressive form of leadership that involves a sharing of power that comes from mutual respect and not domination over others.
It is not apparent now, but it will become apparent in retrospect a generation from now, that we are living in the Age of Obama.