Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Reasons to be Cheerful!

I swear, sometimes being a liberal in America feels like being a fan of one of those baseball teams that never wins because they got cursed by a goat or something. But we actually do have some reasons to be happy about bothering to vote last year. For example...

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for--but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

...and...

There seems to be little to endear citizens to their legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It's too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president -- and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.

The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was far more than an injection of $787 billion in government spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-third of it -- $288 billion -- came in the form of tax cuts, making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy production as well as home-buying and college tuition. The stimulus also promised $19 billion for the critical policy arena of health-information technology, and more than $1 billion to advance research on the effectiveness of health-care treatments.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school districts across the country. There were also massive investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access.

Any Congress that passed all these items separately would be considered enormously productive. Instead, this Congress did it in one bill. Lawmakers then added to their record by expanding children's health insurance and providing stiff oversight of the TARP funds allocated by the previous Congress. Other accomplishments included a law to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco, the largest land conservation law in nearly two decades, a credit card holders' bill of rights and defense procurement reform.


And even before this morning's announcement of a plan to finally get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell:

We expect the Department of Defense to announce at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 2 that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discharges were down by almost 30 percent last year. Indeed, the department may release the discharge numbers before the hearing. As we alerted you here last week, the new trend is indeed welcoming news, but it is not a substitute for full repeal in 2010.

And on the education front:

Over the past year, President Barack Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have started talking quite a lot about great teaching. They have shifted the conversation from school accountability— the rather worn theme of No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s landmark educational reform—to teacher accountability. And they have done it using one very effective conversational gambit: billions of dollars.

Thanks to the stimulus bonanza, Duncan has lucked into a budget that is more than double what a normal education secretary gets to spend. As a result, he has been able to dedicate $4.3 billion to a program he calls Race to the Top. To be fair, that’s still just a tiny fraction of the roughly $100 billion in his budget (much of which the government direct-deposits into the bank accounts of schools, whether they deserve the money or not). But especially in a year when states are projecting $16 billion in school-budget shortfalls, $4.3 billion is real money. “This is the big bang of teacher-effectiveness reform,” says Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that helps schools recruit good teachers. “It’s huge.”

Washington, D.C., is also applying for Race to the Top money from the Obama administration, along with many states. To qualify, states must first remove any legal barriers to linking student test scores to teachers—something California and Wisconsin are already doing. To win money, states must also begin distinguishing between effective and ineffective teachers—and consider that information when deciding whether to grant tenure, give raises, or fire a teacher or principal (a linkage that the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, has criticized as “inappropriate” federal interference in local prerogatives). And each year, states must publish which of their education and other prep programs produced the most effective (and ineffective) teachers and principals. If state and local school officials, along with teachers unions, step up to the challenge, Race to the Top could begin to rationalize America’s schools.


That's one that even our conservative brothers should be happy about, and there's more. The President's budget proposes cuts to farm subsidies (an uphill fight, for sure, but at least he's making the effort), and that proposal to allow interstate commerce in health insurance that conservatives were so mad wasn't in the bill? It's in the bill.

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