By Michael Califra
President Obama has achieved much during his first term. This is a summary of his signature accomplishments and the reasons he deserves to be reelected:
In the Fall of 2008, a credit crisis precipitated by a once-in-a- century housing bubble combined with Wall St. deregulation and fraud had brought an economy already in recession to its knees. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 50% from the previous year, crashing 21% in just the first nine days of October. The economy began hemorrhaging jobs: 424,000 in October; 584,000 in November; in December an additional 525,000 jobs were lost for a combined total of 1.9 million in the year’s final four months. Job losses accelerated into the New Year, losing an average of 752,000 jobs per month in the first three months of 2009. At the same time, the economy was crashing through the floor with the GDP contracting an astounding 9% in the last quarter of 2008.
This was the catastrophe unfolding even as President Obama took office on January 20, 2009. It was nothing short of the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s and could easily have become a second Great Depression. Why didn’t it? In February 2009 the Democratic congress passed and the President Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package to bolster demand in the economy. Every Republican, save one in the House, voted against it. To this day they call it a waste of money. Yet, as the chart below shows, after it was enacted the economy responded almost immediately, slowing more gradually before turning positive by middle of 2009. It has grown every month since.
The increase in GDP that resulted form the stimulus has provided 40-straight months of job growth. Unemployment, which peaked in October of 2009 at 10.1%, has been on a downward trend ever since. The latest jobs report showed the largest single drop in the unemployment rate since 1983, from 8.1% to 7.8%. The chart below shows the plunge in employment during the financial crisis and its upswing beginning in late 2009.
Does more need to be done? Yes. While the economy has recovered all of the private-sector jobs lost during the meltdown, it still faces a long and difficult climb out of the hole created by the Great Recession. And we will certainly face further headwinds as global growth slows due to austerity measures many European nations have wrong-headedly adapted to reduce their deficits instead of growing employment. Because of the stimulus and other actions taken by President Obama early in his term, the US is faring far better than other developed nations. In June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report comparing the major indusrtial economies. The report praised the Obama administration’s expansive fiscal policies for producing a recovery that was clearly gaining momentum. Early in October, the US was ranked “the brightest spot in the world economy,” according to the latest indicators tracked by the Financial Times and the Brookings Institution. Numbers released in September showed consumer confidence in the US rising to the highest level in seven months.
Where does Mitt Romney stand on the stimulus? Everywhere. In the hard cover edition of his book, No Apology: The Case For American Greatness, Romney wrote that the “’all-Democrat’ stimulus that passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery.” Yet, in the subsequent paperback edition, Romney’s book was edited to say “the ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus passed in early 2009 has been a failure.” As on so many issues, Romney doesn’t seem to know what he thinks.
His running mate, Paul Ryan, voted against the Obama stimulus, belittling it in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention as “a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst.” (According to TIME’s Michael Grunwald, whose book The New New Deal is widely acknowkelgded as the definitive history of the stimulus, only 0.0001 percent of stimulus funds could be considered “wasted”; an impressive measure of administrative efficiency.)
Interestingly, after the stimulus was passed, Ryan wrote to the Administration and various government departments on at least four different occasions, asking for the very stimulus funds he voted against; justifying his requests by citing the number of jobs that money would retain or create in his district.
Clearly, avoiding another Great Depression did not happen on its own. It happened because of President Obama’s leadership and Democratic majorities in the Congress.
But more needs to be done. For the last year, the president has been urging the passage of the American Jobs Act, which the Republicans have been blocking in the House of Representatives. The bill would have shaved another point off the unemployment rate by creating up to 1.5 million construction jobs repairing the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure. Speaker Boehner has refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Health Care Reform
President Obama and the Democratic congress reformed an immoral and inefficient health care system which left millions of people at the mercy of abusive insurance companies or with no heath insurance at all. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it has come to be known, eliminates “preexisting conditions”, a concept invented by the insurance industry in order to give them a justification for denying coverage to sick people. It also eliminates “lifetime caps”, another gimmick used by the industry to deny paying health-care claims. The ACA mandates that insurance companies spend minimum of 80% of their revenues on actually providing health care for their customers, and not overhead like CEO bonuses or advertising. The ACA also lets parents keep their children on their policies until age 26; it closes the “doughnut hole” for seniors, saving them hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars a year on prescriptions. Additionally, insurance exchanges will be created to bring down premiums and people who can’t afford coverage will be given subsidies to buy insurance, reducing the high cost of the uninsured using emergency rooms for their health care; a cost that is passed on to the rest of the population. The ACA does all of this and more while driving down the high cost of medical care and extending the solvency of the Medicare program by eight years. It is a legislative achievement that has eluded presidents for nearly a century. President Obama and the Democrats got it done. And while the ACA is based on a plan Mitt Romney championed while governor of Massachusetts, he now says he would repeal it “on day one.” In a recent interview on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Romney pointed to hospital emergency rooms as the way to provide health care for the 50 million uninsured, despite the high cost, and despite the fact that it denies regular care to millions of people that might detect a medical problem while it is still easily treatable. Romney’s approach effectively creates millions of second-class citizens who are denied proper health care. Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, which Romney supports, would destroy its guaranteed benefit for seniors, leaving them at the mercy of the insurance industry; a plan President Obama and the Democrats vehemently oppose.
The collapsing economy of 2008 and 2009, threatened to take the American auto industry and one million good-paying jobs with. In the face of strong Republican opposition, President Obama and the Democrats restructured GM and provided needed financing for Chrysler on the condition that they become leaner, more innovative companies. Ford did not need a bailout, but its own CEO, Alan Mulally, testified before congress that his company would have also been put at risk due to the severe parts shortages and supply disruptions that would have occurred had GM and Chrysler failed. As a result of the bailout, a signature American industry was saved and the country as a whole spared an even deeper economic meltdown. Now, three years after the bailout, both companies are profitable. GM posted nearly $14 billion in revenue since leaving bankruptcy protection in July 2009 and Chrysler has made $440 million since exiting bankruptcy. Both companies also are hiring at a time when many employers are not.
If the Republicans and Mitt Romney – who wrote an infamous OP-ED in the New York Times entitled Let Detroit go Bankrupt – had gotten their way, one million employees of GM, Chrysler and their suppliers across a huge swath of the Midwest would have become jobless at a time when the economy was too weak to absorb them. Removing their paychecks and their taxes from an already contracting economy, while sending this productive workforce onto government safety net programs, would have worsened the federal deficit and the finances of the states they lived in. There was no economic rationale for not executing the bailout. There was, however, a misguided ideological one, which the Republicans were prepared to pursue at the expense of the economy and the livelihood of a million American workers.
Dodd-Frank Wall St. Reform and Consumer Protection Act
30 years of erosion of regulations on Wall St and the banking sector brought us the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, wiping out millions of jobs, trillions of dollars in wealth while leaving millions of American families in crisis and the economy in shambles. Dodd-Frank represents the most comprehensive financial regulatory reform since the 1930s. The law establishes an independent consumer bureau within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers against abuses in mortgage, credit card and some other types of lending. The legislation also gives the government new power to seize and shut down large, troubled financial companies — like the failed investment house Lehman Brothers — and sets up a council of federal regulators to monitor threats to the financial system. Under the law, the vast market for derivatives, complex financial instruments that helped create the crisis, will be subject to government oversight and regulation and corporate shareholders will gain more say on how corporate executives are paid.
Of the 220 Republican members of the 111th Congress, only six Republicans – three in the Senate and three in the House – broke ranks to support the bill. Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they have been working to undermine the law by not funding many of its provisions and agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, despite its vast new responsibilities under the act. Mitt Romney thinks the regulations put on Wall St. and the banks are too tough and has vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank.
Osama bin Laden is dead; the war in Iraq Ended; Afghanistan winding down
President Obama approved a risky military operation that not only brought the man responsible for 9/11 to justice, but yielded a treasure trove of intelligence from his compound in Pakistan. During the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney said that he would not have approved the kind of operation that was carried out because it meant crossing into Pakistan. On another occasion he said “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” President Obama did.
Obama also ended the disastrous Iraq war and is winding down America’s longest war ever in Afghanistan, on a strict timetable, with all US troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2014. Mitt Romney has said that he believes withdrawing US troops from Iraq was a mistake and is against setting a firm deadline for our withdrawal from Afghanistan. 17 of Romney’s 24 foreign policy advisors served in the George W. Bush Administration and were directly reasonable for the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq invasion and occupation. Evidently, having been wrong about everything doesn’t disqualify one from becoming a Romney foreign policy advisor.
ALL OF THE ABOVE just scratches the surface. There is also the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; expanding the S-Chip program to give more children access to health care; getting the banks out of the student loan program to reduce its cost and much more. While the Republicans have, from the beginning, been given the opportunity to engage in the legislative process, they have refused, preferring to do whatever they could obstruct the process instead.
Which brings us to Mark Murphy
When the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011 the rapid pace of progress that marked President Obama’s first two years in office was brought to a halt in mid-term. Republicans had tried to thwart and delegitimize all of the president’s legislative initiatives from the beginning, but Democratic majorities in the House and Senate were large enough to overcome their obstruction. Since the Republicans took control of the House all that has changed. Pulled to the fringe right by the Tea Party caucus that doesn’t seem interested in governing, they have produced a kind of gridlock in Washington unseen in our lifetimes. The 112th congress is generally considered the least productive in history. Rather than actually legislating solutions to the nation’s problems in a time of economic crisis, Republicans in the House have taken up senseless ideological causes, often at the risk of doing serious damage to the country. They threatened not to raise the debt ceiling, which allows the government to pay old debt, something which had been considered routine in congresses past. Instead, they chose to push the country to the edge of a debt default for no rational reason, seemingly ignorant of the calamitous consequences a US default would have on the world economy. As a result of their inane antics, the nation’s pristine credit rating was damaged. Republicans rejected a proposal by the president for deficit reduction because it would have increased taxes slightly on the wealthiest people in the country. They held 55 votes for policies that undermine women’s health, roll back women’s rights, and defund programs and institutions that provide support for women. They wasted valuable time (and millions of dollars) voting on legislation to repeal health care reform- 33 times in all – despite the fact that none of those bills had any chance of becoming law. The GOP House has passed more than 60 bills renaming post offices, but took no action to save the US Postal Service from the risk of eliminating thousands of jobs. And they did all this while the country is still in the midst of a jobs crisis. No wonder congress’s approval ratings are at 9% – an all time low.
Since being elected in 2010, Michael Grimm has marched in lockstep with his Republican leadership. He has supported their agenda, including voting for the Ryan plan to destroy Medicare. Grimm is part of the Republican dysfunction in Washington. Mark Murphy is part of the solution. Mark Murphy in congress would bring important support to president Obama’s plans to create more jobs; restructure the tax code to make it more fair for working people; rebuild the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure and make the investments necessary to keep this country on the cutting edge of new technologies at a time when we are being out spent by our international competitors. Electing Mark Murphy would also stop the Republicans from turning the Social Security Trust Fund over to Wall St., and keep them from turning Medicare into a voucher program – ending its guaranteed benefits and throwing seniors into the private insurance market to fend for themselves. Putting Mark Murphy in congress would be a vote against the reckless fiscal policies of the GOP; policies which turned the Clinton surpluses into debt a decade ago and moved more wealth from the middle class and working people to the top 1 percent. With millions of American families still suffering from the Great Recession, having lost their jobs, their homes, and their health, Republicans have been acting like spoiled children throwing a temper tantrum. They have steadfastly refused to create any jobs or enact any legislation that would actually help people, preferring instead to focus on damaging the president politically.
In times of crisis, Americans expect their government act. Michael Grimm belongs to a party that believes government is the problem; a party whose presidential nominee believes that 47% of Americans prefer the dole to a job and refuse to take responsibility for their lives. Mark Murphy believes government can work for everyone; that it can level the playing field and provide opportunity for every American while protecting the environment and making much needed investments in infrastructure, education and science to fuel economic growth. With Grimm now embroiled in scandal, a race that seemed out of reach a short time ago is now in play. The Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to retake control of the House of Representatives – not inconceivable considering the last three cycles have produced wave elections and the historically low approval ratings for the current congress. Electing Mark Murphy is an important part of reaching that goal.
Let’s stop the dysfunction in government. Let’s not go back to the policies that were responsible for the current crisis in the first place. Let’s reelect President Obama and send Mark Murphy to Congress.