Obama’s long wish list runs short on time

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

If Pres­i­dent Obama thought 2013 was an un­pro­duc­tive year for his agenda in Congress, he prob­a­bly will en­joy 2014 even less.

Mr. Obama has crit­i­cized the cur­rent Congress for be­ing on track to be­come “the most un­pro­duc­tive in his­tory.” As cam­paign­ing be­gins in earnest for the con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions, the pres­i­dent plans to push par­ti­san pro­pos­als, such as rais­ing the min­i­mum wage, that have lit­tle chance of be­com­ing law but are in­tended to draw distinctions for vot­ers.

“The min­i­mum wage is a very im­por­tant part of the Demo­cratic ar­gu­ment on eco­nomic in­equal­ity,” said Repub­li­can strate­gist John Fee­hery. “Repub­li­cans are vul­ner­a­ble on that. It’s go­ing to pass the Se­nate, and then it’s go­ing to die a lonely death in the House.”

Start­ing with the State of the Union ad­dress Jan. 28, ex­pect to hear Mr. Obama talk a lot about rais­ing the min­i­mum wage from $7.25 per hour. He pitched the idea a year ago, but this time the pres­i­dent is en­dors­ing a Demo­cratic plan to raise the min­i­mum wage to $10.10 per hour — the first in­crease in six years.

The pres­i­dent, who is sad­dled with the worst job-ap­proval rat­ings of his five-year pres­i­dency, also will re­new his call in Jan­uary to re­vive long-term un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits for 1.3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans whose weekly pay­ments ex­pired in De­cem­ber. Do­ing so would cost tax­pay­ers about $26 mil­lion through the end of the year.

Mr. Obama’s themes of in­come equal­ity, pop­ulism and an ac­tivist gov­ern­ment are aimed at boost­ing the prospects of Demo­cratic can­di­dates who are hop­ing vot­ers will over­look Repub­li­can crit­i­cism of Oba­macare and its neg­a­tive ef­fects on many house­hold bud­gets.

The pres­i­dent did get a bit of good eco­nomic news to end the year. The gov­ern­ment an­nounced Dec. 20 that growth in the third quar­ter was the strong­est in nearly two years, al­though the news was largely lost in the cov­er­age of the con­tin­u­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of Mr. Obama’s sig­na­ture health care law.

“Our busi­nesses are po­si­tioned for new growth and new jobs,” Mr. Obama said at his year-end news con­fer­ence. “And I firmly be­lieve that 2014 can be a break­through year for Amer­ica.”

Mr. Fee­hery said the pres­i­dent will try to get as much leg­is­la­tion through the Se­nate as pos­si­ble in case Democrats lose con­trol of the cham­ber to Repub­li­cans in the Novem­ber elec­tions.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a very bad elec­tion for Democrats,” he said. “His ap­proval rat­ings are down, he lost his cred­i­bil­ity on Oba­macare. It’s re­ally hard to fight back against that.”

A spokesman for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has turned the cor­ner on the Af­ford­able Care Act, and he pre­dicted that prob­lems with the pro­gram’s roll­out would not hurt Democrats at the bal­lot box.

“The free-fall stopped, we started climb­ing back, and are ac­tu­ally po­si­tioned for 2014,” DNC spokesman Mo Ellei­thee said in an email to sup­port­ers. “The ACA is as pop­u­lar as it’s ever been — and that’s fine elec­torally.”

Act­ing uni­lat­er­ally

With prospects dim for Mr. Obama’s agenda in Congress, the pres­i­dent is ex­pected to is­sue more ex­ec­u­tive or­ders. Cli­mate change is a likely tar­get, but pro­gres­sives also are push­ing Mr. Obama to use his au­thor­ity to pay em­ploy­ees of fed­eral con­trac­tors more than the min­i­mum wage.

Mr. Obama has is­sued 164 ex­ec­u­tive or­ders since Jan­uary 2009, in­clud­ing a de­cree to stop the de­por­ta­tions of young il­le­gal im­mi­grants. He has av­er­aged 33 ex­ec­u­tive or­ders per year but took only 19 such ac­tions in 2013.

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush is­sued 196 ex­ec­u­tive or­ders dur­ing his first five years in of­fice, in­clud­ing more than a dozen in 2001 stemming from the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton is­sued 239 dur­ing his first five years in of­fice.

Leg­isla­tive bat­tles

Other items in the pres­i­dent’s in­box in­clude a de­ci­sion on whether to ap­prove the Key­stone XL pipe­line, dead­lines and ad­min­is­tra­tive chal­lenges for Oba­macare, con­gres­sional au­thor­ity to com­plete am­bi­tious trade deals with the Euro­pean Union and a group of Pa­cific Rim na­tions, and grind­ing for­eign pol­icy crises such as the civil war in Syria and the end of com­bat ac­tiv­ity in Afghanistan.

The leg­isla­tive bat­tles in which Mr. Obama chooses to en­gage will be fought in the Se­nate, where ma­jor­ity Democrats have elim­i­nated the fil­i­buster for ex­ec­u­tive branch and ju­di­cial nom­i­nees. If Repub­li­cans win back con­trol of the Se­nate in Novem­ber, the pres­i­dent is un­likely to find them in an ac­com­mo­dat­ing mood.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said Democrats are try­ing to ram through pro­pos­als with­out re­gard to the mi­nor­ity party.

“The Se­nate rules are now just as op­tional to Wash­ing­ton Democrats as the Oba­macare man­dates they de­cide they don’t like,” Mr. McCon­nell said shortly be­fore Congress ad­journed for the year. “All of which ob­vi­ously makes a mock­ery of our in­sti­tu­tions and our laws, and all of which sug­gests that this is a ma­jor­ity that has zero con­fi­dence in its own ideas. This is a ma­jor­ity that can’t al­low the mi­nor­ity to have a mean­ing­ful say when it comes to nom­i­nees. … This is a ma­jor­ity that won’t al­low mem­bers to of­fer amend­ments when it counts.”

Meet­ing of the minds?

One of the few prospects for bi­par­ti­san achieve­ment in 2014 could be im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Al­though Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, has said the House won’t pass the Se­nate’s com­pre­hen­sive plan, some Repub­li­cans be­lieve the House will ap­prove at least some por­tions of the Se­nate bill.

“Any­thing that gets done on the leg­isla­tive front will get done be­cause Repub­li­cans want it, and I would put im­mi­gra­tion in that cat­e­gory,” Mr. Fee­hery said.

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