Friday, December 17, 2010

Obummers: Bush Tax Cuts, Wikileaks, and Other Post-Election Woes

And so it begins, Obama Admin. 2.0. Trying to rise up from the November "shellacking" the president and Democrats received, losing the House of Representatives in whopping losses and just barely keeping control of the Senate, the president does that halfway point dance to the center. And although until the end of the year, Democrats still maintain substantial majorities in both chambers, appeasement has begun with the compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans for another two years, while extending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed and providing a one-year payroll tax cut for most of the middle and lower class. Even though Republicans campaigned and won on shrinking the massive federal deficit, this bill costs $801 billion, all of which goes right into it.

Many Democrats were up in arms over the back room deals Vice President Uncle Joe Biden made with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but in the end backed the deal so as not to increase taxes on everyone. In her waning days as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi described Republicans as making Democrats pay "a king's ransom" to save the middle class. Obama himself, in a somewhat fiery defense of the plan, showed his frustration at liberals who would rather take a stand then help those who need the cuts. There's a bit at the end where he says, "if it weren't for compromise, I wouldn't be able to walk through this door."

The comparisons to Bill Clinton's "triangulation" politics in trying to work with Republicans are hard to avoid, and President Barry even summoned the er- ghost of the former president to help defend the deal. In a very bizarre moment, Obama even left the lectern to Slick Willie for a good half an hour to go attend a White House Christmas party. Ol' Bill soaked up the lime light once again, fielding questions from the tax cuts to Haiti, although disappointingly not his new found veganism.

This was a battle that would have been extremely hard for the left to win. While the Republicans really backed everyone into these massive cuts for the rich and tax breaks on wealthy estates, the president may be able to get more out of this on other issues which seemed out of reach until just recently.

Take Don't Ask Don't Tell, the ban which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The bill failed when packed into the annual defense budget, but Democrats stuck with it and brought it up again as just a stand alone bill this week. It passed the House, and is up for a vote tomorrow in the Senate. While it failed in the Senate last time, with only one Republican (Susan Collins of Maine) supporting it, three more Republicans have jumped on board bringing it to the 60 votes needed to pass. Had this compromise not been reached on the tax cuts, it's arguable those three wouldn't have signed on.

Same thing goes for the New Start Treaty, the deal with Russia to reduce nuclear arms, which stands arguably as Obama's signature foreign policy achievement so far. Last month Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said there simply wasn't enough time to get it done before the end of the year. Now, with pressure from the White House by bringing in top Republican national security figures from previous Republican administrations, they seemed to have gained the votes to get it passed.

So while certainly the tax cut deal is a huge blow to the left, I wouldn't look at it as the ultimate model as some are saying it is for the next two years. There's going to be a lot of give and take here. But, instead of only Democrats voting for big packages, there may be somewhat of a more working Congress this time around. Whether that's enough to get the president reelected is another matter. The left feeling betrayed is another.

Then there's that whole Wikileaks thing. This week Julian Assange was arrested in London over sexual abuse charges in Sweden. Freedom fighter to some, information terrorist to others, Assange is now behind bars for something other than the massive classified cable dumps that rustled diplomatic feathers across the world this month. As the U.S. decides how to best prosecute the Australian internets rabble rowser, the debate continues as to whether these dumps are truly the table turning leaks some claim they are, on par with the Pentagon Papers.

Assange has threatened to release thousands more of the documents if prosecuted, as only a fraction have been let out so far. If you follow the news, most of the diplomatic cables aren't much more than international gossip and trash talk. What was fascinating was what was said about our allies behind their backs. Talking about French President Nicolas Sarkozy as only listening to those who tell him what he wants to hear, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel always playing it politically safe are interesting and illuminating, but not game changing. The same can't be said though for the leaks of Arab states aggressively pushing the U.S. to go after Iran's nuclear program.

While Wikileaks portrays itself as a defender of information freedom, it goes through the mainstream media, leaking the cables to the New York Times, the Guardian, and other big name publications. They go through and pick out what should be released and what shouldn't. With Bradley Manning, the soldier who gave up the files behind bars now, there may be fewer within the system ready to give up these secrets. If it's not Wikileaks though, in the future it will be someone else. It's a very 21st century problem, which can be prevented in the short term but not the long term. The Obama Administration is just the first administration that will have to deal with these disclosures. How they deal with it may prove the precedent for the rest.

In the silliest moment of the week, senate Republicans said that they thought it wrong to continue work until Christmas because of a disrespect for one of the holiest of Christian days. Because, you know, no one else has to work the week of December 20th. And, the Christians have always had it so hard too. Happy holidays, here's a picture of Jesus and some babes with wings.