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The Rational Center | Commentary by John Zaring
| Thursday, Apr 11, 2013

johnzaring2012Pardon the pun, but President Barack Obama pulled out the big guns on Tuesday to try to move some sort of gun safety legislation through the U.S. Senate. He flew a group of the families of the children and educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One to ratchet up the pressure on the 14 Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have been threatening to filibuster any debate about any kind of gun control legislation.

Nationwide polls show that on the issue of expanded background checks, the president has the overwhelming support of the American people, in some polls to the tune of 90 percent.  That’s right, folks: Nine out of 10 of Americans, and yes, that is all Americans, regardless of party, support increased background checks.  And yet, these 14 shills for the National Rifle Association said they simply didn’t care; they intended to keep the issue from being debated on the Senate floor.

Fortunately, the Newtown visitors had a deep, emotional impact as they walked the halls of the Capitol. Their appearance seemed to be a pivotal moment in the process, because by Wednesday, at least a few people in the GOP realized that continuing to be described as inflexible and extremist wasn’t in their best interest.

Their united front began to crumble when Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., announced a bipartisan plan with West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, saying, “I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control; it is common sense.”

You think?

Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, President Obama strode confidently into the Rose Garden to present his Fiscal Year 2014 Budget to Congress. It included specific reductions in Social Security and Medicare, and new investments in education and infrastructure.

His plan generates $580 billion in new revenues and cuts $1.8 trillion over 10 years, including $400 billion in health care savings and $230 billion in savings from a reduction in the growth rate of Social Security.

Obama’s plan also includes many elements heretofore favored by Republicans, including many positions that put him squarely in the GOP’s comfort zone. He classified his olive branch as an attempt to get something done, and he implored House Republicans to come back to the table.

He said, “When it comes to the debt and deficit reduction, I’ve already met Republicans more than halfway, so in the coming days and weeks I hope Republicans will come forward and demonstrate that they are really as serious about the deficits as they claim to be.”

Not surprisingly, Republicans took the president’s olive branch and promptly snapped it in half. House Speaker John Boehner did give Obama credit for his cuts to Social Security and Medicare but then heaped on criticism for the attempts to generate revenue through implementation of the Buffet Rule, named for Warren Buffet, which requires those making more than $1 million to pay no less than a 30-percent tax rate.

Boehner immediately stepped before reporters to say, “The president got his tax hikes in January, and we don’t need to be raising taxes on the American people.”

Memo to the speaker: The whole thing about compromise is that everyone needs to give a little. As the president said in the Rose Garden, “My budget does also contain the compromise I offered Speaker Boehner at the end of last year, including reforms championed by Republican leaders in Congress. And I don’t believe that all of these ideas are optimal, but I’m willing to accept them as part of a compromise, if and only if they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans.”

According to Rep. Paul Ryan, “House Republicans have already done things to come to the middle,” inferring that Obama shouldn’t expect any further revenues. Really? What “things” have the Republicans done to come to the middle – or even close to it? I guess he was referring to allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on those earning over $500,000 in annual income. Well, God bless them.

All of this reminds me of that old saying, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.”

Republicans don’t present the only problem for the president. He is also getting attacked from his left flank. On Wednesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders led a protest rally outside of the White House, with his No. 1 complaint being the idea that even $1 could be cut from Medicare or Social Security, which is, in my opinion, just as silly as Ryan saying that you can’t raise revenue by even $1 more.

Extreme rhetoric and passion exists on both sides, with political chasms that dwarf the Grand Canyon, so the president is working with moderate Republicans in the Senate to assemble a coalition of the willing on his top legislative priorities – on guns, immigration and on the budget – in order to force the House to do something, anything. “Let there be a vote” will likely be the rallying cry employed in order to get anything done in Washington during Obama’s second term.

By working with Senate Republicans, the president is attempting to wipe all of the excuses off of the table, to give Speaker Boehner and House Republicans only two options – either do something, anything, or fall farther into irrelevance through their continued intransigence and inaction.

Meanwhile, in the other big news of the day, a bipartisan group of senators called the Gang of 8 announced that an agreement on immigration reform was imminent. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey put it this way: “We are just finishing up legislative language to encapsulate all of the agreements that we’ve come to. All of the major issues, on a pathway to legalization, on border security, on future flow of workers, on ag jobs, on the Dream Act, all of those have been agreed to.”

Of course, the only reason immigration reform is even on the table just a couple of years after Republicans blocked the Dream Act – which was just a small part of consensus immigration reform which Menendez now says has bipartisan support – is that in 2008, Barack Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote, while in 2012 he was reelected with three-quarters support among Latinos. It is the fastest growing demographic in the country, and given that by 2043 the United States is going to be a majority-minority country, that gives Republicans enormous incentive to reposition themselves as something other than hate and fear mongers.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is among the handful of Republicans who want immigration reform, and he is certainly enjoying the national profile which comes with it. But as a tea party favorite with his own presidential aspirations, he doesn’t want to be the only Republican trumpeting this, so he’s trying to slow the process down long enough to pull-in some of his peers.

He’s having trouble, so maybe Obama’s “coalition of the willing” strategy might provide Rubio the cover he needs to rescue his party.

Wouldn’t that be ironic?


John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.


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