aflcio.org — Peter Skerry, in a recent journal article for National Affairs, encouraged policymakers to “split the difference” on immigration reform by legalizing the undocumented population without offering any chance of eventual citizenship. While something must be done to address the crisis facing more than 11 million people who call this country home, lawmakers need to make a road map to citizenship a priority. However, this does not mean we should “split the difference” with those who practice the divisive politics of exclusion. Legalization without a chance at citizenship would create an underclass of workers, who would not have access to all of the opportunities, responsibilities and rights that come with citizenship. This does not reflect our shared values as Americans and it also does not make economic sense.
policyshop.net — The standard conservative rap on the social safety net is that it turns people into slackers by providing a comfy hammock and discouraging work and initiative. Yesterday, President Obama offered a diametrically opposite analysis: Programs like Social Security and Medicare, he argued, actually enable people to reach higher: "...these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. That may be the strongest defense of the safety net in a nation like the U.S., where the values of self-reliance and individualism run so deep, providing fertile soil for libertarian attacks on government assistance.More interestingly, this logic chain offers insights into how to spur growth and innovation. In a nutshell, if we can strengthen the safety net and de-link it from employers, we'll encourage more risking taking, entrepreneurship, and job creation.
washingtonpost.com — January has turned out to be a banner month for fans of American exceptionalism. As documented in voluminous detail in a 404-page report released last week by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, Americans lead shorter lives than Western Europeans, Australians, Japanese and Canadians. Of the 17 countries measured, the United States placed dead last in life expectancy, even though we lead the planet in the amount we spend on health care (17.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 vs. 11.6 percent each for France and Germany). We get radically less bang for the buck than comparable nations. If that’s not exceptionalism, I don’t know what is.
colorlines.com — Senior Administration officials told The New York Times this week that President Obama intends to move an “ambitious” and comprehensive push for immigration reform through Congress in the coming months. Four years ago, it was a very different situation. Progressive groups had a long list of competing priorities for the president, with the economy and health care winning out. Understanding how immigration reform “earned” its way to the top of the progressive agenda should shape the movement’s strategy in the coming months. Two major changes have taken place. First, the movement has grown in numbers and matured in sophistication, generating a new collective urgency among liberals on this issue. Second, the combination of demographic change and growing immigrant power have challenged Republicans, in particular, to get behind reform. How well the movement optimizes these trends will be key to getting the best reform possible and capitalizing on the unprecedented opportunity to win immigration reform in 2013.
dailykos.com — Yesterday, the House of Representatives finally voted to approve long overdue relief aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. That's good news, and it's a story in and of itself, but there's another important story about vote—the measure passed despite overwhelming Republican opposition. Here are the raw numbers: Yeas: 241 (192 Democrats, 49 Republicans);Nays: 180 ("Democrat" Jim Cooper + 179 Republicans). This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen when Republicans control the house. Unlike Democrats, Republicans have a longstanding informal rule that no legislation will come up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans support it. That rule—dubbed the Hastert Rule after former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert—is supposed to prevent outcomes like the one last night, where a united Democratic Party teams up with a divided GOP to pass legislation overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans. But last night they ignored the rule—and it was the second time they ignored it this year.
prospect.org — When push came to shove, and Congress had to approve legislation to avert the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t rely on his conference to provide the necessary votes. The final agreement—crafted by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden—passed the House with just 85 Republican votes. The remaining 172 came from Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, for a final count of 257 to 167. To avert economic disaster Boehner had to seek votes from a overall majority of the House, rather than just a majority of his caucus. Which has raised an important question: Would Boehner try to build majorities with pragmatic Republicans and Democrats, or would he continue the Sisyphean task of wrangling Tea Party Republicans into a governing coalition. We’re still waiting on an answer, but if last night’s vote on Hurricane Sandy aid was any indication, we may see more of the former over the next year than the latter.
tomdispatch.com — During a writers' panel at a book festival in Los Angeles recently, one panelist shocked the audience by declaring, “God, I miss the Cold War.” His grandmother had come to California from Oklahoma with a grade-school education, but found a job in an aerospace factory in L.A. during World War II, joined the union, got healthcare and retirement benefits, and prospered in the Cold War years. She ended up owning a house in the suburbs and sending her kids to UCLA. Several older people in the audience leaped to their feet shouting, “What about McCarthyism?” “The bomb?” “Vietnam?” “Nixon?” It couldn’t be a sadder thing to admit, given what happened in those years, but -- given what’s happened in these years -- who can doubt that the America of the 1950s and 1960s was, in some ways, simply a better place than the one we live in now? Here are eight things (from a prospectively longer list) we had then and don’t have now.
alternet.org — A prolonged confrontation over the nation's debt ceiling -- unlike the "fiscal cliff," which provoked many scary headlines -- could truly be grave for both America and the world. While press coverage often mentions the possibility of lowered credit ratings for the U.S. Treasury (again), that might only be the mildest consequence if Republicans in Congress actually refuse to authorize borrowing and avoid default. In short, the economy would contract sharply and the U.S. -- along with the rest of the world -- might well be plunged back into negative growth. If that was true in July 2011, it is equally true today, and there is no reason to dismiss that warning. But the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill insists that they are willing to take these mind-boggling risks, solely for the purpose of enforcing an extreme austerity regime that has already done permanent damage in much of Europe.
prospect.org — President Obama unveiled his package of proposals to reduce gun violence today, a mix of executive actions he can undertake unilaterally (23 of them) and ideas that will require new laws passed through Congress. There are a bunch of other proposals, particularly in those 23 executive actions, many of which are rather minor and involve clarifying existing policies. Immediately after he finished his statement, he signed the executive orders, but those were the easy things. The more difficult and consequential parts—the assault-weapons and high-capacity magazine bans, the universal background checks—will require Congress. It's going to be extremely hard to get such laws passed, though the background-check provision is the one most likely to succeed.
robertreich.org — A week before his inaugural, President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit. At an unexpected news conference on Monday he said he won’t trade cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. Well and good. But what, exactly, is the President’s strategy when the debt ceiling has to be raised, if the GOP hasn’t relented? He’s ruled out an end-run around the GOP. So it must be that he’s counting on public pressure — especially from the GOP’s patrons on Wall Street and big business — to force Republicans into submission. That’s probably the reason for the unexpected news conference, coming at least a month before the nation is likely to have difficulty paying its bills. The timing may be right. But Obama’s strategy depends on there being enough sane voices left in the GOP to influence others. That’s far from clear.