An Agenda for Congress

An Agenda for Congress November 5, 2014

This Friday’s “CFM” meeting (a church group) is at our house, and my husband is out of town, so I’ve been trying to tackle the project of getting the house Company Clean.  Which meant that last night, rather than blogging, I had the TV tuned to CNN while I scrubbed the floor.  (Incidentally, the Magic Eraser was remarkably effective at removing the dirt that mopping couldn’t, though it meant hands-and-knees cleaning.)

So this morning I thought I’d offer a few thoughts before I start the workday.

The big question that everyone seems to be watching for is this:  will Obama be conciliatory or combative at the big press conference this afternoon?  My money is on fake-conciliatory.  Obama is too full of himself to learn a lesson that involves humility.  Whether he says so or not, he’ll be convinced that each and every one of the Republican victories were issues of (take your pick) personal failings on the part of the Democratic candidate, that candidate’s failure to stand up for Obama’s policies, a dissatisfaction with the way the country is headed which voters have wrongly and ignorantly pinned on the Democrats, or perhaps just a dumb electorate, perhaps even racist, whose wishes don’t deserve to be accommodated, and to whom History Does Not Belong.  He may even discard the significance of the Republican majority in the House as due to gerrymandering (conveniently forgetting about instances when it benefitted the Democrats) and in the Senate as fundamentally un-democratic due to the disproportionate weight given to low-population states (though low-population-state Democratic Senators are OK).  In any event, he will very quickly discard any notion that the Republican majorities now in the House and Senate were democratically elected, and return to viewing them, and speaking of them, as adversaries whose only legitimate role is to pass legislation that he wants, or at least shut up about his executive actions – rather than as the actual legitemate legislative branch of government.

Sorry, I know that’s pretty negative.  But what it boils down to is that an agenda for the next Congressional session has to take it as a given that Obama is out for himself, not for the greater good.  Granted, he’s not “out for himself” solely in the limited sense of pursuing policies that enrich him monetarily, in the short- or long-term (I imagine that he’s taking it for granted that he’ll be able to rake in huge sums of money after office, simply with fees for speech-giving, with an expectation that whatever Hilliary and Bill are earning, he ought to be offered double), but he wants to have it his way, as an expression of his personal power.

Will Obama push through with amnesty?   You’d think not, if he wants to be able to work with Congress to pass legislation over the next two years.  But I don’t think he cares about that — or, if he does, he may even think that the best way is to take this action as a demonstration of his power, as a sort of shock-and-awe, to say, “I didn’t bluff here, and I won’t bluff when I threaten to veto any legislation that’s not 100% to my liking.”

It is also the case that the Republicans still have a significant disadvantage:  whenever there’s a power struggle, the media can be counted on to portray the GOP, not Obama and the Democrats, as the obstructionists.  Trying to get a counter-message out will be difficult.  Trying to shame Obama into signing legislation will also be difficult, though perhaps for something crucial it may be possible to have a combination of a grass-roots and TV-commercial-based campaign.  Maybe a few hashtags?

Which means that, like it or not, I think the Republicans will have to make a preemptive offer to defuse this grenade.

My suggestion:  offer now, in this lame-duck period, a minimum wage increase as part of the same bill which hobbles Obama’s ability to grant executive-order amnesty.  The bill would have to pin down those parts of existing immigration legislation which are ambiguous, such as whether H1-B visas are one-per-individual or one-per-household.  The key in Obama’s game as to existing illegal immigrants is to apply the same concept as for DACA:  we announce that we will not deport these individuals due to prosecutorial discretion, and therefore we grant you a work visa; perhaps the best legislative way to prevent this without limiting the “prosecutorial discretion” concept entirely (assuming that its existence is due to legitimate uses in the past) is to assign a maximum such work permits per year with firm consequences for doing otherwise.  And the minimum wage increase?  Yes, we can say until we’re blue in the face that it’ll take away opportunities for marginal workers, but most Americans don’t care.  As something of a work-around, I’d institute subminimums for certain targeted groups:  under 20s, those 62+, the long-term unemployed, first-time entrants into the workforce.

Later, in January, craft a true enforcement-first bill.  How to ensure the enforcement happens? Waves of visas to be granted for classes of illegal immigrants, by priority class, after implementation of each type of enforcement legislation (and I care much more about workplace enforcement, including under-the-table workers than fence-building).  In the meantime, true deportation of those with no ties to the community and recent arrivals (I’d make English-speaking ability as much a marker of integration as ability to “prove” long-term residence, which is easily forged), with a one-for-one requirement which limits or halts the granting of work visas for new immigrants if this process isn’t implemented properly.

Other items on the agenda, for January:

From what I understand, both the GOP and Obama himself want him to have fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements, and it’s Reid that was the obstacle.  I don’t know the particulars, but this seems like an easy one.  Does Obama want this enough that he’d be willing to sign on to approving the Keystone pipeline?  I’m not sure.

There are likely other “easy” pieces of legislation.  Surely my favorite go-nowhere bill on pooled pension plans could be passed, for instance.

But what about the big issues?

Republicans have two years to fix Obamacare via incremental changes.  (I say “two years,” incidentally, because of the statement, repeated frequently, that in 2016 they may lose the Senate again, due to a disproportionate number of fragile GOP seats up for re-election.)  Let’s call it Health Care Reform Reform.  One step at a time, create common-sense changes that Obama would have a hard time rejecting, or, that is, justifying his rejection.

Everyone agrees we need corporate tax reform.  Of course, as far as the GOP is concerned, it’s a matter of lowering rates in exchange for ending loopholes, or maybe even lowering rates and keeping loopholes, and as far as Obama and the Democrats are concerned, it’s a matter of ending loopholes alone (except tax breaks for so-called green energy), even “loopholes” which are based on common-sense tax accounting.  Now, granted, I don’t know exactly how to go about creating legislation that Obama will be able to boast about signing (which seems to be a prerequisite).  Maybe there’s some Br’er Rabbit trickery to be found.

(As a side suggestion:  what about an increase in personal income taxes at the top brackets, but only for employees, not the self-employed or owners of private companies?)

What about ISIS?  Will Obama act if he has GOP support?  Or is the isolationist gene too strong?

And yes, beyond this, the GOP is aching to prosecute Obama and his adminstrations’ abuses of power, but we’re probably better off curtailing future abuses and accepting that we can’t do much about past abuses.

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