Obama’s Waffling on Unions and Jobs Funding

One of Ohio Governor John Kasich’s major priorities upon becoming governor was to strip the public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. The vehicle for successfully doing that was SB 5. On November 8, 2011, Ohio voters will vote on whether or not to overturn SB 5. A “no” vote will overturn it.

Bill Press, talk show host, Democratic activist and former head of the California Democratic Party, asked Jay Carney, Obama’s spokesman, if Obama was going to urge a “no” vote on Initiative Two in the November 8 election; also, Press wanted to know if Obama had any immediate plans to travel to Ohio. Carney replied that there are no plans for President Obama to travel to Ohio and he answered the other part of the question indirectly by referring to Obama’s public opposition to Wisconsin’s attack on collective bargaining rights.

About an hour after raising the question with Carney, Bill Press received an email from an Obama deputy press secretary. The email implied that Obama was opposed to the stripping of bargaining rights; however, when Press contacted the office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown to tell him that Obama was urging a “no” vote on Initiative Two, Brown’s staff told him that the email that Press had received was insufficiently specific. So Press emailed the deputy and she responded that Obama opposed passage of Initiative Two.

Given that this exchange described above took place on either October 26 or 27, the moral of the story is that President Obama had no intention of taking a position on Ohio’s ballot measure until his staff was pushed very hard on the issue by a very supportive talk show host. Not taking a position on Initiative Two would certainly have hurt Obama with organized labor, but, perhaps, not taking a position may have helped him more with Independent voters. Overall, waffling on such an important issue doesn’t suggest the boldness required of a “Yes We Can!” leader.

Waffling on Jobs Proposal

When President Barack Obama introduced his roughly $450 billion jobs proposal before a joint session of Congress in September 2011, he stressed the need to pass the jobs bill “Now!” While on the stump selling his proposal to the public, he continued to stress the urgency of quick passage. My reaction was that such a major piece of legislation should be vetted in legislative committees and there should also be time for the general public to have input.

Obama’s overall proposal was tested in the U.S. Senate and the vote was tied at 50-50, with two Democratic senators and Independent Joe Lieberman joining the united 47 Republican senators. It became clear that the full proposal would not come close to clearing the very high filibuster hurdle of 60 votes and the Republican majority in the U.S. House precluded any hope off passage in that body. So Obama decided that he would cut the proposal into “bite-size” pieces, given lthat the U.S. Congress couldn’t seem to be able to swallow the entire proposal at once. As of now, the bite-size chunks have not been able to pass muster in the U.S. Senate.

What we are seeing in regard to the jobs proposal is how quickly, and without convincing explanation, Obama changes positions, and how this trait of his has hurt his credibility. Not only has he broken the package into separate pieces but the funding has been fundamentally changed. Originally, it was to be funded by eliminating tax loopholes and raising the taxes on the wealthy through a tax rate increase; then it was to funded by a 5.6 percent surcharge on those earning $1 million or more; and now each piece of the proposal will carry a separate surcharge. It is very unclear how these separate surcharges are to be accommodated in the tax code.

Although Obama supporters are ecstatic about his taking the fight to recalcitrant Republican lawmakers, it doesn’t seem to be working in terms of getting his legislative initiatives passed. It is a difficult proposition when you spend much of your presidency bending over backward to appease Republican demands and then switch to labeling them as oppositionists with whom it is impossible to work.

President Obama’s latest tactic of using executive orders to achieve change will work only on the margins and he risks tipping over into what should be a legislative function. His executive order on housing mortgages, for example, will help, at most, only one million of the estimated 11 million whose homes are under water; also, his executive order on student loans; which will reduce the term of payment from 25 to 20 years and reduce the required share of repayment on income from 15 to 10 percent will provide some needed relief to students; however, it will not have much effect on the nearly $1 trillion of student loan debt.

In the final analysis, I believe that recalcitrant Republican lawmakers in Congress must bear a large share of the blame for President Obama’s failure to get desired legislation passed, but Obama must be held at fault for breaking campaign promises, changing his position on issues and alienating his strongest supporters. If Obama had proven to be the change agent he promised to be in the presidential campaign, he probably would have retained or even increased the Democratic majority in the U.S. House and kept a strong majority in the U.S.Senate.


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