No Quack: Why Barack Obama is Not Done Being the Most Consequential President in Modern US History

No Quack: Why Barack Obama is Not Done Being the Most Consequential President in Modern US History

This man is not done being the most consequential president in modern US history.

This man is not done being the most consequential president in modern US history.

Today, the new Congress was sworn in, now fully under Republican control - as opposed to half being under full GOP control and the other half paralyzed by GOP obstructionism. When the Republicans won control of Congress in November, pundits everywhere began to write the obituary of the Obama presidency, and talks began on just what kind of failure Barack Obama will be judged as.

Some things have happened since then. The President announced major enforcement action on immigration, allowing some 4 million additional undocumented immigrants to seek temporary stay, primarily aimed at keeping families together. On December 17, the President achieved a diplomatic breakthrough not seen since Kennedy and with the help of the Pope, opening diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in most Americans' memory. The months of November and December likely created well over half a million jobs, continuing the longest continuous period of private sector employment growth in US history. Real GDP growth in the third quarter of 2014 was an astounding 5%.

CNN reports that despite the best efforts of themselves as part of the right wing noise machine, the good news is beginning to break through and the president's approval rating is beginning to rise. Not only is his approval now the highest since March of 2013 in CNN's poll, the president's rating among has turned around 10 points.

And so in the midst of the Republicans suing him for acting like a president while black, the Obama administration is gearing up for more. The EPA is set to release regulations on methane pollution from oil and gas operators, as well as finalize carbon emission regulations for existing coal plants. The Labor Department will be updating regulations that will mandate overtime pay for millions of low-wage workers, and the FCC is drafting new rules on net neutrality. The IRS is going to go after political activity of ostensibly "social welfare" groups (like Karl Rove's Crossroads), and the president is on the verge of an unprecedented Asia Pacific trade agreement.

In other words, no quack.

In the mean time, the reality on Capitol Hill is actually different than it has been in the past four years. As much as I and other progressives would rather have at least one house of Congress - especially the Senate (just think of judicial and executive nominations) under Democratic control - if we cannot have both, the truth is that having the same party control both Houses makes for a distinctly different power dynamic. It's different because the popular perception of a divided Congress is different from that of a divided government.

A divided Congress is gridlock government. In a gridlock government, people tend to blame "both" sides, as well as the president by default. Republicans used that perception rather cunningly - along with acquiescence of Democrats fearful of their own shadow - to win a big victory in a record low-turnout midterm election.

But as they say, be careful what you wish for. A divided government, as opposed to a divided Congress, signals a time for compromise. For reasons that escape, well, reason, the American people view Congress as one entity despite the very real intentions of our framers not only to divide Congress by ideology, but also by measure of representation. But this perception represents an opportunity for the president to challenge the Republicans to actually present a legislative agenda rather than simply grinding on 'no'.

The President has been doing it for the past six years, you say, with no avail with the Republicans. Why would the GOP give up something that has been as beneficial to them as being the party of 'no' after its latest success? Simply put, because they have no other choice. We do not live in a parliamentary democracy, and the time for Republicans simply to be the opposition is over.

During the four years the GOP has controlled the House, Speaker Boehner has been openly boasting about all these bills that the House passed that the Senate never took up. And of course, Harry Reid had good reason not to take up bills that would wreck havoc on the American middle class: from repealing Obamacare to dismantling regulations on industry. But Mitch McConnell doesn't. The House will no doubt pass some of the draconian bills again - repealing Obamacare for the 50th time is likely, as is replacing it with trading medical services for various farm animals or building an electric fence on the US-Mexico border with moats of alligators under, and the Republican Senate will have to take up those bills.

When they do, my sincere hope is that Senate Democrats unify in opposition to vote against those measures, but refrain from filibustering them. Let those pass the Senate and face the President's veto pen. When the House or the Senate passes a bill individually, it makes the third story on the evening news, and perhaps no news at all on cable depending on the specific cable news station's ideological bend.

But when Congress passes a bill - especially one that is on its way to meet the veto pen - that tickles the fancy of all media, because regardless of ideological bend, today's media loves nothing more than drama. That is usually to the detriment of national policymaking, but in this case, it will force the Republicans to explain why their bills should become laws as the President hammers away at it with his veto - and media - messages. They will have to explain why they are trying to kill laws and regulations that hold banks and insurance companies accountable.

And, I'm certain they will come up with something like this:

“The president doesn’t seem to care about the impact of these regulations on families,” said John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, adding that the administration is showing “a complete neglect of the economic impact” of the load of new rules.

I cannot confirm rumors that the White House sent a giant copy of the following graph to Barrasso's office in response.

Truth is, that Republicans have to make the case for economic deregulation itself is a victory for the president, because every time they have tried in recent history, they have failed spectacularly. As the president has said often - and proven in two landslide elections - he is happy to have this debate (and beat the GOP over the head with it).

Of course, if the Republicans choose to compromise and govern, they can share in the limelight for big things: real tax reform that reduces rates while collecting the fair share from the ultrawealthy and multinationals, a new era of diplomatic breakthrough from the pacific to the Arabian sea, and meaningful immigration reform.

In case Republicans choose to shape and be part of that history, it will also give the president the opportunity to brush aside liberal ideological nagging whether it be about the budget or about health care. After all, it will be hard to blame the president for "negotiating against himself" with a Congress fully controlled by the Republicans.

All of this is why President Obama isn't a lame duck. He's not done - not by a long shot - being the most consequential president since FDR. The Obama presidency has largely been about two things: making big, progressive changes in the direction of this country, and exposing the right wing for their naked greed. In these last two years in office, contrary to the popular myth, he has the opportunity to do both in dramatic scale.

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