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Paul: Obama Says He Wants to Work with Congress? Then He Should Return Our Calls



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President Obama is almost getting “kind of petulant” in his pleas for cooperation from Congress, but Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) says his own calls to the White House generally go unanswered.

Paul told Fox News that he called President Obama “several months ago” about an infrastructure-funding, tax-reform bill he worked on with Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), along the lines of the kind of bipartisan legislation the president said tonight he’d like to see passed by Congress. “I’ve called him on it — I get no response or I get, maybe, obstructionism,” he said.

“The real question is, is he going to work with us?” the senator said. “Really, I think the intransigence is on one side: his.”

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Elizabeth Warren Liked the Speech



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For what it’s worth, Hillary did too, but she doesn’t seem to have quite the same natural cadence in echoing Obama:

For those handicapping the 2016 digital race: Clinton’s social-media maven, whoever he or she is, slightly miffed the above tweet, which is directed at the president and will only be visible to those who follow both of their accounts.

The top SOTU tweet from Warren’s account got about one-third to one-half as much engagement as Clinton’s despite the senator’s having something like one-twentieth the number of followers Clinton does.

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The President’s Post-Obama Agenda



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The most striking thing about President Obama’s State of the Union address was how thoroughly and consciously it was disconnected from the political moment. The president addressed the Congress he will face for the remainder of his term, which is the most Republican Congress since 1929, but he didn’t really speak to that Congress or to the electorate that sent it. He made no mention of the recent congressional election and offered no reason to think its results would change his approach to his own job. 

Instead, he began by pointing to economic gains that suggest that, six years after the end of the last recession, we may finally see the sort of growth that could merit being called a recovery. He then proceeded to propose a set of policies — giving the federal government far more power over community colleges, cutting taxes for families with two working parents but not for those with a stay-at-home parent, levying new mandates on employers — designed to draw contrasts with Republicans rather than to close distances or to be enacted. Then he painted a rosy picture of international affairs on an Earth-like planet that plainly is not this one. And finally he hearkened back to the promise of his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, which he knows everyone recalls fondly on cold nights, and said it wasn’t too late for Americans to prove ourselves worthy of that speech and its maker, if only we would behave a little less like congressional Republicans. 

The substantive core of the speech, such as it was, did not involve a president laying out policy goals for the next two years. It involved a politician looking to reframe some key debates to better prepare his party for the next election cycle. What he offered is not an agenda he can work on with this Congress but an agenda that a future Democrat could plausibly attempt to offer the public — an agenda at least superficially focused on opportunity and middle-class aspirations rather than (as the Democrats’ economic case generally has been lately) inequality and middle-class resentments. That the president could offer so little policy substance to back up this superficial change of emphasis is a sign of just how bare the Democrats’ cupboard is now. But that he has recognized that the change is needed is a sign that at least some in the party may be aware of the problem they have. 

In this sense, the speech offers a model that Republicans can learn from. They, too, need to recognize that there will not be very much they can achieve in the next two years, since the president isn’t particularly interested in proving that Republicans “can govern.” They should certainly look for opportunities to make meaningful rightward progress where they can, but there won’t be many of those, and for the most part they too should use what power they now have to put forward an agenda that will speak to the public’s concerns and priorities. 

Their conservative principles offer them much more to work with in crafting such policies than the Democrats now have. They need not offer only superficial talk but can propose a real agenda that would speak to voter worries about economic dynamism, mobility, the cost of living, and the prospects of the next generation. And their control of Congress enables them to actually force the Democrats to vote on the most popular of their ideas. A few of those may prove popular enough to be enacted now, even under this president. Most will be filibustered or vetoed. But putting them forward, getting Republicans in the habit of articulating the case for them, and getting the public used to hearing them, could make an enormous difference in preparing their party for winning the 2016 election and governing beyond it. 

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Web Briefing: January 29, 2015

Richard Engel: Obama’s Foreign-Policy Claims ‘So Rose-Colored’ They’re Not Based in Reality



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NBC News’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, sharply criticized President Obama’s assessment of his foreign policy in his State of the Union, questioning how the president could think his strategy for the Islamic State is working despite the militants’ resilience.

“It seems that the rose-colored glasses through which [President Obama] was viewing the foreign policy were so rose-colored that they don’t even reflect the world that we’re living in,” Engel said during MSNBC’s post-speech coverage. He pointed to recent events in Paris, Iraq, and Syria as signs of the Islamic State and other terror groups’ growing presence worldwide.

“ISIS is doing very well, and the strategy is completely disjointed,” he continued. “To sell that as a success, I think was missing the point, maybe even disingenuous.”

Tags: State of the Union 2015 , State of the Union 2015 Media Reaction

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Who Says This Speech Didn’t Soar?



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“It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have.”

 

Old Boss Same as the Old Boss



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Despite the lecture about how we need a different and more elevated politics at the end (which was itself drearily familiar), the speech was another exercise in Obama’s stubbornly dogged and fixed politics. He didn’t bend after the rebuke of 2010 and he’s not going to give way after the rebuke of 2014. His only concession to the new political reality in Washington was veto threats. Otherwise, it was another version of the same old mix of tax increases, redistribution proposals, and new government programs. We’ve heard so much the last couple of months about how Republicans need to “govern.” Well, this wasn’t a “governing” agenda from the president, but a statement of defiance, that will be augmented by (allegedly) legacy-boosting unilateral actions, on Gitmo, Iran, climate change, and any number of other things. 

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MSNBC: Obama’s ‘Rosy’ Global Picture ‘Doesn’t Match the Reality’



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MSNBC’s praise of President Obama’s State of the Union address stopped at the water’s edge on Tuesday night, with Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews agreeing that the president’s “rosy” international picture is completely divorced from reality.

President Obama told Congress that America was making progress in its fight against the Islamic State. “It’s really hard-pressed to see the progress that they claim,” Mitchell said, noting that the Free Syrian Army was still in utero and that Assad and the Islamic State both continue to terrorize millions. Coupled with the Charlie Hebdo attacks and Boko Haram, she said, “things are in a pretty dire state.”

Matthews agreed, saying it was as if the president “define[d] his universe . . . I kept thinking tonight that there’s a real world out there that he didn’t really talk about.”

“I think on foreign policy, his projection of success against terrorism, and against ISIS in particular, is not close to reality,” Mitchell admitted. “They just — they have not come up with a strategy.”

Mitchell went on to note that even in a partial success story like Ukraine – where sanctions on Russia are starting to bite – ”Ukraine is going to need more weaponry.”

“So you’re right, Chris, it doesn’t match the reality,” she concluded.

Tags: State of the Union 2015 , State of the Union 2015 Media Reaction

Memo to Obama: ‘Smarter Leadership’ Abroad Doesn’t Just Mean More Weakness



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With remarkable humility, the president explained tonight that he believes in a “smarter kind of American leadership.” After six years of his confused and ineffective foreign policy, “smarter” may be the last adjective I would choose to describe his style of leadership.

While the polls show that the American public is far from satisfied with Obama’s leadership abroad, he still seems to be enamored of the contrast between his own intellectualism and the supposed thickness of his predecessor. Yet what the president offered tonight was not a serious defense of his foreign policy, but a flattering comparison of himself with a jingoistic strawman.

What is dumb leadership? “When we make rash decisions,” the president explained, “reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military — then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts.”

It was as if someone else had ordered the deployment of more than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan and the hasty decision to seriously back Libya’s rebels.

Don’t get me wrong — I fully supported the surge in Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya. My problem is with the president’s failure to finish the wars he started. But regardless of whether you were for or against those decisions, you might find it troubling that such a smart president can’t come up with a rationale that can account for his own choices. Or that such a smart president admitted several months ago that he had no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State. For some reason, this president can’t apply his brilliance to the actual challenges in front of him.

The root of the problem may be a persistent misunderstanding of what it means to be smart. For this president, being smart always seems to correlate with withdrawal of American troops, resistance to using force, and attempting reconciliation with the most oppressive and hostile regimes. For some reason, this president couldn’t recognize that it might have been smart to keep enough troops in Iraq to prevent its implosion or to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition before Islamic extremists hijacked the anti-Assad movement.

Ironically, the president’s complete confidence in his own intelligence has made his foreign policy less decisive and less coherent. Despite his determination to avoid conflict, the president has often found himself in situations where getting tough seems to be necessary, whether it is with the Islamic State, Iran, or Vladimir Putin. Under pressure, the president then moves to a stronger position, but hesitates to follow through. Being tough still doesn’t feel smart, so Obama begins to bend.

After promising to destroy the Islamic State, Obama has presided over a lackluster military campaign. Tonight, he patted himself on the back for “stopping ISIL’s advance.”

After a failed reset with Russia, Obama responded to the invasion of Ukraine with a parade of threats. In the end, Obama and his European partners only imposed pinprick sanctions. Tonight, Obama bragged about Russia’s diplomatic isolation, but the Kremlin’s proxy army hasn’t loosened its grip on eastern Ukraine, where thousands have died.

After Ayatollah Khamenei rejected Obama’s friendly overtures in 2009, the White House went along with a congressionally driven strategy of imposing harsh sanctions. With its economy ailing, Tehran agreed to talk about abandoning its drive for nuclear weapons. Even though Tehran is just stalling for time, Obama has threatened to veto bipartisan legislation that threatens to impose new sanctions if Tehran doesn’t negotiate a disarmament deal by July 1. Tonight, the president re-issued his veto threat.

He may be smart, but he just never learns.

— David Adesnik is policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Tags: State of the Union 2015

CNN’s Blitzer: ‘I Don’t Remember a State of the Union with So Many Veto Threats’



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CNN host Wolf Blitzer was struck by the sheer amount of times President Obama brandished his veto power during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, saying he can’t remember a speech with so many threats to an opposing Congress.

Facing hostile Republicans, the president promised to veto legislation attempting to undo Obamacare, new Wall Street regulations, or executive action on immigration. He also threatened to veto new Iran sanctions — something many Democrats also support.

“I don’t remember a State of the Union address where I heard a president issue so many veto threats . . . to the opposite party in the United States’ Congress,” Blitzer said.

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Will’s Take: Obama’s State of the Union ‘Curiously Dissonant’



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The major themes of President Obama’s State of the Union contradicted themselves, says George Will. On one hand, the president called for a more amiable relationship between Congress and the White House; on the other, he already vowed to veto a number of GOP efforts.

“I think the president gave a curiously dissonant speech in saying, ‘I’m going to be congenial, we’re all going to get along. . . and I’m going to veto any important thing that you send to me,’” Will said on Fox News shortly after the president’s address.

As for the Republican response to the speech, Will proclaimed “a semi-star was born” in Iowa senator Joni Ernst. “She passed a test that others have failed,” he said, “in doing so, she helped put a fresh face on the Republican party.”

Tags: State of the Union 2015 , State of the Union 2015 Media Reaction

The Obama Show



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Like a lot of people, I found tonight’s speech a chore. That’s less of a criticism of Obama than it sounds. I find all State of the Unions to be tedious, particularly this late in a presidency. I do think it was better delivered than most of his State of the Union addresses. I didn’t, however, think it was particularly well-written. “The shadow of crisis has passed”? C-minus.

More telling, the last 15 minutes amounted to Obama’s golden oldies. His real foe is cynicism. We can all work together. There are no red states or blue states. We are all our “brother’s keeper.”

The difference is that the first time we heard this stuff it had at least superficial plausibility because the Obama presidency hadn’t happened yet. Five, six, ten years later, it’s all pretty sad. It’s sad because it shows that Obama still thinks his original material is fresh when it’s actually played out (and some of it was piffle to begin with — don’t get me started on “my brother’s keeper”.)

It’s also sad because it’s all so hypocritical. It’s one thing to claim as a candidate that you’re running against cynicism when you’re a rookie politician. It’s quite another to start the sixth year of your presidency cynically trolling the opposition with proposals you know cannot pass while decrying the political gamesmanship and partisanship of your opponents. He wants to work with Republicans but will veto anything significant they pass. He promises all sorts of “free” stuff out of one side of his mouth and then insists we must raise taxes to pay for it. Oh, so it’s not free, huh? He expresses his well-rehearsed outrage at the notion that the minimum wage isn’t enough to support a family on when that’s not what the minimum wage is designed to do.  

Virtually any State of the Union address in the sixth year of a presidency would be dull. The best you can say about Obama’s performance is he didn’t throw off the curve. 

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Steve Hayes: Obama Lecturing Against Divisive Politics ‘Preposterous on its Face’



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President Obama’s choice to encourage politicians to stop “demonizing each other” was too much for The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes to handle. The president’s speech called on Congress to work toward a “better politics,” devoid of “‘gotcha’ moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies” — all of which the Obama administration has repeatedly deployed against Republicans, Hayes pointed out.

“The idea that this president can lecture the Congress, lecture the country about a better politics I find preposterous on its face,” he said. “It might have worked before he practiced, in my view, some of the most divisive politics this country has seen in recent memory.”

Hayes’s list of examples included the Obama White House’s labeling Republicans “hostage-takers,” “cowards,” and “terrorists” at various points.

Tags: State of the Union 2015 , State of the Union 2015 Media Reaction

Check Out the Camo Heels Combat Vet Joni Ernst Wore for Her State of the Union Response



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How to Ruin Community Colleges



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I don’t suppose it has occurred to very many of those “free” community college enthusiasts that much of what community colleges do would be beside the point if we had properly functioning high schools and a proper system of higher learning that distinguished between education as such and job training. And now the same people who brought you the Cleveland and Washington public schools are going to apply their wisdom to the community colleges.

The cynicism of this ploy is remarkable. Those working at “free” community colleges presumably will not be working for free, in buildings that spring forth out of the ground at no expense, with texts delivered by the book fairy. It’s simply a matter of putting the federal government in control of resources directed at community colleges, rather than leaving the consumers largely in control—i.e., eliminating the thing that makes community colleges work.

But that’s the Democrats. Community colleges are, among other things, host organisms for parasitic unions of the sort that dominate Democratic politics and sustain Democrats’ campaigns. (And thus the hilarious phenomenon of the community-college strike.)  For Democrats, the answer to every social problem is to ensure that lovely healthy streams of government money are directed at institutions that employ lots of Democrats. As with every other aspect of the welfare state, the problem here is not really the people receiving the benefit, but the people who are employed administering it. The Democrats did not build their machine simply by offering people free stuff, but by creating vast and powerful bureaucracies to administer those free-stuff programs.

It is difficult to miss the fact that the public schools are plainly designed for the benefit of the people who work there, not for the students, and you can see the same dynamic at work in any parole office or government-run job-training center. That is not the dynamic you want to encourage in the community colleges.

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Matthews: Obama’s Cable-News Swipe ‘Unfair’ Since MSNBC ‘Shared His Hope’



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MSNBC host Chris Matthews’s feelings seem to have been hurt when President Obama slammed the cable-news cycle during his State of the Union address, calling the comment “unfair” because networks — “our network especially — shared his hope.”

Moments after Obama wrapped up his Tuesday night address, Matthews interrupted the network’s burgeoning lovefest to fire off a quick criticism of the president.

“I think he made a mistake tonight about cable television,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people — at our network especially — who have hoped, and, in fact, share his hope, with regard to the end racial division and the need for continuing that hope — for that aspiration. And not at all benefited from it. And also about bipartisanship . . . “

“And so I don’t think it’s fair to say that everybody benefits from division,” Matthews continued. “I think he’s made a mistake on that. And I don’t think he watches much cable television, to be honest with you.”

Tags: State of the Union 2015 Media Reaction , State of the Union 2015

Obama’s ‘Free Stuff for Everyone’ Speech



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A pollster at last week’s GOP congressional retreat summarized the proposals President Obama is making tonight as “free stuff for everyone.” Indeed, on everything from enhanced child-care tax credits to free community college the president was in a Santa Claus kind of mood in this month after Christmas. All of the proposals enjoy majority support in polls — although that support tends to fall after people weigh the price tag.

Take paid sick leave. Obama mentioned that wherever the issue was on the ballot this fall it passed when people voted on it. But he was careful not to mention that the only state where it was on the ballot was Massachusetts. Yes, the state that hasn’t sent a single Republican to the U.S. House in 20 years and consistently votes Democratic for president by about ten points more than the rest of the country. Question 4, the Massachusetts ballot measure that mandated paid sick leave in the state, did pass but with only 60 percent of the vote — meaning that after a real debate the issue might be an even split nationwide.

Republicans need to make a sustained argument that paid sick leave is yet another mandate on small- and medium-sized businesses that they can ill afford just as they are being buffeted by the gales of Obamacare.

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Obama’s Weak Trade Message



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The president had a somewhat difficult task in addressing trade tonight, since he had to bridge between his NAFTA-skeptical 2008 primary run and his current advocacy of trade agreements. But he did it by essentially saying that past trade agreements were bad but his will be great. I’m not sure that’s going to persuade many people.

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Full Transcript of Obama’s 2015 State of the Union



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Here’s the transcript (via Vox.com, errors here not their own for once):

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

We are fifteen years into this new century.  Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.  It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. 

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.  More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.  And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe.  We are humbled and grateful for your service.

Keep reading this post . . .

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Rand’s Response



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Two years ago, Rand Paul delivered the official tea-party response to the president’s State of the Union address. Two years from now, the Kentucky senator hopes to be the one delivering the address itself.

As has become his custom, Paul will record a response to tonight’s speech from his Senate office before flooding the airwaves with television appearances. He’s even unveiling a new website for the occasion, RandResponse.com. And this year, the senator is looking to lob missiles as much at his potential rivals for the GOP nomination as he is President Obama and Democrats.

He will highlight, for example, his opposition to the National Security Agency’s data-collection program, which he believes will distinguish him among his counterparts once the primary gets underway. “We have set up a privileged class in Washington, and Americans are sick and tired of it,” Paul will say in his response. “The Constitution is clear. Politicians should not collect this information without a warrant. Warrants must be specific to an individual and there must be probable cause before government is allowed to search any American’s documents.”

In yet another hint at where his focus is, Paul, in an interview in his Senate office this afternoon, was happy to ignore the upcoming address and talk about the candidates — and the issues — that are likely to confront him on the campaign trail. He’s been taking jabs at the former left and right, calling former Florida governor Jeb Bush a “big-government Republican” and calling former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney “yesterday’s news” and deriding his decision to consider a third presidential bid “the definition of insanity.” Then Paul’s top adviser Doug Stafford lit into Romney on Twitter.

I ask Paul if he’s concerned the jousting risks making him look juvenile. All the jabs, he says, have been “in good spirit” and “pretty softball.”

He pauses: “You realize, every one of those things, I didn’t start. You realize that, the truth of the matter is that, in politics, you do have to defend your positions. If people attack your positions, if you’re not willing to defend them then I think you really need to probably try some other occupation because I’m not going to take it, basically, if my positions are attacked I will defend them. If nobody ever brought my name up, I would never bring their name up.”

That may be true of the senator’s spats with New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Florida senator Marco Rubio, both of whom jabbed Paul about his non-interventionist foreign-policy positions, but Romney and Bush were not the instigators. And Paul seems to delight in provoking them.

In the conference room in his Senate office, we sit under dual portraits that hang above the oval table: On the left sits one of the senator’s father, the former Texas congressman Ron Paul, and on the right, one of the senator himself. That pairing represents one of the senator’s biggest hurdles on the road to the White House: the elder Paul with all of his kooky and unorthodox views and the younger’s loyalty to him.

I ask Paul, given the foreign-policy crises that have popped up across the globe and the Obama administration’s seeming inability to confront them, how much of an appetite he thinks there is for a Republican candidate who holds anti-Bush foreign-policy views.

“I guess I wouldn’t call it anti-Bush, even if there is a Bush in the race,” he says. Paul has said he doesn’t believe President Obama has made the country less safe, and that the root of the country’s current foreign-policy challenges lies in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He says there’s plenty to indicate that a good portion of the GOP agrees with him. He points to an October poll from Bloomberg News and the Des Moines Register that shows Iowa’s GOP caucus-goers are split down the middle, 45 to 41 percent, between a preference for more intervention abroad “as John McCain suggests” and less intervention abroad “as Rand Paul suggests.”

And he says more Republicans now oppose the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in retrospect, than support it. A January poll from the Pew Research Center shows that a majority of Republicans continue to support it, though a majority also says that the U.S. has failed to achieve its objectives there.

“That actually shows that I’m in a position that’s actually a pretty good one,” Paul says. “I’m happy to occupy that space and everybody else can split what’s left.”

Tags: State of the Union 2015

Obama Lifts 2015 SOTU Mantra from Liberal Think Tank, ca. 2012



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If President Obama’s “middle-class economics” mantra for the 2015 State of the Union sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because his liberal allies were pushing the same message three years ago.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the White House, was using the line after President Obama’s reelection in order to argue for tax increases on the wealthy.

“That’s what a government grounded in middle-class economics must do, and why the fiscal showdown presents such an important opportunity,” CAP’s Neera Tanden wrote at Reuters. “A year ago in Osawatomie, the president made his case for the middle class. Last month, the American people responded by reelecting him. We are still waiting for congressional Republicans to get the message.”

That last bit from Tanden is a bit unfortunate for Obama, given that he is adopting her line after congressional Republicans won resounding victories in the 2014 midterms. Nevertheless, Obama is calling for more tax increases.

Tanden has helped with Obama’s writing before. In 2013, she told HBO that she “helped write” Obamacare. And John Podesta, CAP’s founder, spent the last year working in the White House. He is expected to join Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

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