Editor’s Note: Progressive Breakfast will be on hiatus during the winter break, starting December 24th. We’ll be back in the new year, on January 3rd, rested and ready to deliver the news and views you need to affect change in 2011. Until then, we wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. See you next year!
MORNING MESSAGE: Education For We, the People Or For Private Profit?
OurFuture.Org’s Dave Johnson: "Progressives believe that a We, the People economy works best when we act as a community where "we are all in this together," and watch out and take care of each other. We mutually benefit from this approach: the better off we all are, the better off we all are. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe we should all be on our own, looking out for only ourselves and our families, and it is up to each of us, alone, to take ‘personal responsibility’ for our own success. Our differing approaches to education reflect these different philosophies. Progressives believe that education is good for all of us, and should be available to all of us. …Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that ‘the government’ (We, the People) has no business helping people…. And so America’s conflict continues, one side asking for public investment in all of us for the long-term benefit of We, the People while the other side tries to harvest the public good for the short-term benefit of a few."
The Not-So-Lame Duck Congress
No Congress since the 1960s has had the impact of the 111th: "However history judges the 535 men and women in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate the past two years, one thing is certain: The 111th Congress made more law affecting more Americans since the ‘Great Society’ legislation of the 1960s. For the first time since President Theodore Roosevelt began the quest for a national health-care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most comprehensive way since the Great Depression. It spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy; ended an almost two-decade ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, and today ratified a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Before adjournment today, Congress approved legislation to help rescuers and clean-up crews suffering from illnesses linked to the wreckage caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The Senate approved it on a voice vote, the House by a vote of 206-60. New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a statement, called it a ‘Christmas miracle.’"
Obama’s signature ends "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell": "The military’s longstanding ban on service by gays and lesbians came to a historic and symbolic end on Wednesday, as President Obama signed legislation repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the contentious 17-year old Clinton-era law that sought to allow gays to serve under the terms of an uneasy compromise that required them to keep their sexuality a secret. …The repeal does not immediately put a stop to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Mr. Obama must still certify that changing the law to allow homosexual and bisexual men and women to serve openly in all branches of the military will not harm readiness, as must Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen, before the military can implement the new law. But the secretary and the admiral have backed Mr. Obama, who said ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a topic of his first meeting with the men. He praised Mr. Gates for his courage; Admiral Mullen, who was on stage with the president during the signing ceremony here, received a standing ovation."
In one day the Senate passed…everything, reports TPM’s Megan Carpenter: Today in the Senate, they passed (by unanimous consent) the defense authorization bill that Republicans held up over objections to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell just two short weeks ago; they passed by a voice vote the 9/11 First Responders Health bill that had been the subject of so much drama and debate; and they passed by a 71-26 vote the START nuclear treaty with Russia despite Republican objections to that as well. And, for good measure, they are currently voting to confirm Mary Helen Murguia to be a judge in the Ninth Circuit. Update: At 3:40, they confirmed Murguia."
Why has the 111th Congress been so productive? Ezra Klein knows the secret: "This is vastly more than anyone expected, and even if I’m disappointed by the failure of the omnibus spending bill (for reasons explained here) and the DREAM act, I can see why Sen. Lindsey Graham summed up the session by saying, "When it’s all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch." But it wasn’t really Harry Reid who ate their lunch (and how much better would that quote have been if Graham had said, "Harry Reid drank our milkshake"?). It was the Republicans. DADT repeal passed because Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown voted with the Democrats. The tax deal went through because a host of Republicans voted with the Democrats. Same for START, the food-safety bill and the DoD authorization. If the bill helping 9/11 responders get medical benefits passes, that too will be because of Republican support. The question is why the Republicans didn’t just drag their feet and let things expire and then come back to everything in 2011, when they’ll have more allies in the Senate and control of the House?"
Is Obama Back?
Howard Fineman at HuffPo says the president’s got game, and his moves on the basketball court inform his moves in the political arena: "People who play basketball with Barack Obama say he’s more dogged than flashy, more determined than skillful, more adaptable than unique. He’ll trash talk on a dribble-drive with Reggie Love, but in the old days he was a studious, unselfish passer with classroom colleagues at Harvard Law. And often, they say, he ended up with more points than you thought he’d have. No one noticed until it was over. As in basketball, so it is now: his life on the court is a parallel to the first two years of his up-and-down-and-now-sort-of-up-again presidency."
President Obama finds hope in end-of-year flurry of wins: "President Obama used an upbeat, end-of the-year news conference Wednesday to hail the fading lame-duck session as a ‘season of progress’ that surprised most who predicted that Congress would run out the session hamstrung by partisanship. ‘If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock,’ Obama said. ‘We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress but to make progress together.’The president, clearly relishing his Capitol Hill victories and improved standing with the public, touted his successes that came after the ‘shellacking’ — his word — that Democrats took in November’s midterm elections. The party’s losses will translate into a GOP takeover of the House in January, and significant Republican gains in the Democratic-controlled Senate."
A majority of Americans approve of Obama’s role in the "lame duck" session of Congress: "President Barack Obama is getting good marks for his role in Congress’s lame-duck session. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday, 56 percent of Americans said they support how Obama has handled the lame-duck session that’s expected to end this week. Forty-one percent said they disapprove."
Where do Obama and progressives go from here? Mike Lux, has some ideas: "So the marriage has been a little rocky here after the first couple of years. There’s been some whining and screaming and throwing of plates; there’s been some flirting with other suitors. But I still believe there is plenty of time to patch things up. Where does the relationship between Obama and the progressive community go now? The answer will come down to the following things: 1. The response to hostage taking… 2. The response to the deficit commission… 3. The response to the loss of immigration reform…"
Robert Reich explains why Obama wins on foreign policy and gays, but loses on economics and taxes: "Why have Senate Republicans been willing to break ranks on these two, while not a single Republican went along with Obama’s plan to extend the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income? Why has Obama consistently caved on economic and taxes, but held his ground on foreign policy and issues like gays in the military? A hint of an answer can be found in another Senate defeat for Obama over the last few weeks that got almost no attention in the media but was a big one: Republicans blocked consideration of the House-passed Disclose Act, which would have required groups that spend money on outside political advertising to disclose the major sources of their funding. The answer is this. When it comes to protecting the fortunes of America’s rich (mostly top corporate executives and Wall Street) and maintaining their strangle-hold on the political process, Senate Republicans, along with some Senate Democrats, don’t budge."
Ezra Klein says every returning Senate Dem has signed a letter to Harry Reid calling for filibuster reform: "The letter is not specific on what sort of reform they’d like to see, but the basic outline looks to take its cues from Sen. Jeff Merkley’s proposal: Filibusters would require continuous debate on the floor of the Senate, and they would only be allowed once the bill is on the floor (no more filibustering the motion to debate a bill, for instance). Democrats would also like to see the dead time between calling for a vote to break a filibuster and actually taking the vote reduced. ‘There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,’ Sen. Claire McCaskill told the National Journal. None of these changes would reverse the Senate’s transformation into a 60-vote institution, of course. Instead, they would speed up and streamline what happens around those votes."
HuffPo’s Zach Carter reports that House Dems are pushing for new foreclosure regulations: "Several key House Democrats are circulating a letter urging support for new regulations that would crack down on what critics say are rampant foreclosure abuses in the nation’s banking system. The letter, authored by Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) encourages federal banking regulators to rein in practices at bank divisions called "mortgage servicers." Servicers are responsible for collecting and processing payments, charging late fees, negotiating with troubled borrowers and implementing the foreclosure process. Servicers have been criticized for committing widespread fraud in recent months, charging improper fees and incorrectly evicting borrowers. The three House Democrats have already signed the letter, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.)."
Economists predict 8.2% unemployment by 2012: "Economists are getting more bullish on U.S. economic growth. But the benefits of the stronger economy are going to take a while to reach job seekers and homeowners. …Economists are expecting the unemployment to be about 9.7% in December, little improved from the current unemployment rate of 9.8%. They expect it to improve to just below 9% by the end of next year, little changed from earlier forecasts, and they’re looking for unemployment to drop to about 8.2% by the end of 2012. Most economists expect unemployment won’t get below 8% until 2013, a level it last reached in January 2009, the month that President Obama took office and the economy was losing more than 700,000 jobs a month."
After nine years, Congress passed the health care bill for 9/11 responders: "The US Congress has passed a bill to fund healthcare for workers involved in rescue and clean-up efforts after the 9/11 attacks on New York City. The bill, passed first by the Senate and then the House, will also compensate survivors of the attacks. Republicans who had initially opposed the bill’s cost agreed to a smaller deal amid pressure from television personalities and New York Democrats. The bill was one of the last remaining items before Congress adjourned. The House passed the bill by 206 votes to 60, some two hours after it was cleared by the Senate. President Barack Obama has said he is eager to sign it into law."
Why, asks Ezra Klein, was passing the 9/11 bill so hard?: "The bill extending medical benefits to 9/11 responders passed today. It had been held up because, well, it’s not exactly clear. …The bill finally did pass, but only once Democrats shaved it from $7 billion in benefits to $4.3 billion in benefits. It’s quite a place for the GOP, which just fought to extend $700 billion in tax cuts for the rich, to begin cutting back. To get a sense of the people and problems we’re talking about here, watch this interview Chris Hayes conducted with a 9/11 responder who subsequently lost 30 percent of his lung capacity due to inhalation of particulates at Ground Zero"
Politico reports Senate Minority Leader McConnell may be losing his "iron grip" on GOP Senators: "For two years, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained iron discipline over his 40-member conference, mustered a mostly-united opposition against the White House – and helped define the GOP as ‘the party of no’ in the eyes of critics. But in the waning days of the 111th Congress the White House and Democrats think they have finally found a crack in Fortress McConnell. On two critical pieces of legislation – the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gays in the military and the START treaty with Russia – Republican moderates defied their leadership and backed two major priorities of President Barack Obama."
Independent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski goes rouge, says Taegan Goddard: " Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who won re-election as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary ‘is already showing a fierce independent streak,’ Politoco reports, becoming the only Republican to cast votes for all four items on President Obama’s lame duck session wish list: a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ a tax cut compromise, the START treaty and cloture for the DREAM Act."
The U.S. filed a case against China with the WTO, accusing China of breaking trade rules: "The Obama administration filed a case against China with the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, siding with an American labor union, the United Steelworkers, in accusing Beijing of illegally subsidizing the production of wind power equipment. The decision is the second time in less than four months that the United States has accused China of violating world trade rules. It represents an escalation of trade tensions between the United States and China over clean energy, viewed by the Obama administration as a frontier in which American companies are struggling to remain competitive. The United States is challenging a special Chinese government fund that awards grants to makers of wind power equipment. The Americans say the fund provides subsidies that are illegal under W.T.O. rules because the grants appear to be contingent on manufacturers using parts made in China.