Morning Plum: Inside Obama’s game plan for 2014

In his State of the Union address tomorrow, President Obama will declare his intention to use executive authority to bypass Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports that a host of such policies are being considered on the economy, job training, infrastructure repair, climate change, and education.

Republicans are outraged. Yesterday Rand Paul declared that Obama’s promise of executive action smacks of a “threat,” adding that he should instead be “building consensus.” Senator Roy Blunt similarly argues that “we don’t need more class warfare” and that the President “has a lot of explaining to do.”

This is particularly interesting, given that Republicans have for years hewed to a strategy of denying Obama any support for his initiatives explicitly to prevent him from achieving accomplishments he could tout as bipartisan. Don’t take my word for it. Mitch McConnell has already told us of this strategy himself.

But the sniping about Obama’s promise of unilateral action — which will only grow louder — is obscuring what is really going on here, which is more complex and nuanced than it first appears.

The recalibrated strategy is partly a reflection of a realization that there’s probably no chance of winning GOP cooperation on most of Obama’s agenda. But the White House is not simply resorting to new tactics to move Obama’s agenda forward, though that’s important. Rather, it looks to me like Obama and his advisers are also embarking on an ambitious effort to re-engage the president with the public on a new set of terms.

Scott Wilson has a must read on what’s really driving the new thinking. Short version: Obama advisers have concluded that he’s coming across as too much of a prisoner of the Congressional stalemate that has resulted from GOP obstructionism. Resorting to executive authority is also about resetting the prism through which the American people evaluate the president’s performance and his engagement with them — by conveying a sense that he has a plan to move the country forward, and he’s acting on it.

Along these lines, note this finding from the new Post/ABC News poll:

Presidents have the power in some cases to bypass Congress and take action by executive order to accomplish their administration’s goals. Is this approach something you…

Support: 52

Oppose: 46

In other words, despite the inevitable screams about Obama “tyranny,” this approach will politically be at worst a wash (independents are split on it 49-49) and at best a net positive (in addition to majority support for it, moderates favor it by 56-43; only Republicans and conservatives oppose it in large numbers).

What’s more, the right wing version of Obama-as-tyrant has never really resonated with the middle of the country. Meanwhile, polls have indicated the American public understands the true nature of GOP obstructionism. The state of the economy will be far more dominant in 2014 than any process argument, and Republicans will continue to block pretty much anything that would relieve the austerity they’ve successfully imposed on the recovery. And yet, as E.J. Dionne writes in a good column, the American people side with Obama philosophically on the need for government to act to reduce inequality and boost economic mobility — the central topics of his speech, and a key goal of planned executive actions.

It remains to be seen whether the new approach will succeed in raising Obama’s approval rating, which is also important for 2014, but what is the alternative? More of the same. And at bottom, people don’t care about process. They care about results.

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* PUBLIC STILL DOESN’T WANT OBAMACARE REPEALED: Another key finding from the Post poll mentioned above: Support/opposition on the law now sits at 46-54. But while opposition is still running high, only a total of 38 percent want the law repealed. That means a total of 60 percent either approves of the law or wants to keep it in spite of disapproval. This mirrors last week’s CBS poll, which found that 34 percent favor repeal.

As always, disapproval of the law does not translate into support for the stance held by pretty much every 2014 Republican Congressional candidate.

* OBAMA BATTLING AGAINST AUSTERITY ON GOP TURF: One last point about Obama’s planned executive action: John Harwood has a great piece detailing the ways in which Republicans are mostly getting their way in the big battle over austerity and the need for more federal investments to get the economy going. Key nugget:

As aides draft their 2015 budget plan, their 2014 version shows this bottom line for Mr. Obama’s sixth year in office: Government investments in infrastructure, research and development, and education and training, at 3.3 percent of the nation’s economy, match the level from President George W. Bush’s sixth year in office…Republicans have largely controlled the debate, even as Democrats have won four of the last six presidential elections.

This is the larger context for Obama’s planned executive actions to prime the economy — in many ways austerity has already won, and the recent deal replacing the sequester at higher spending levels is only a tiny reversal of that.

 * CONSERVATIVES GEAR UP TO THWART IMMIGRATION REFORM: Foes of reform in the House and Senate are banding together to block what they see as the nightmare scenario:

On Thursday, aides to House conservatives who oppose the leadership’s plan gathered in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a fierce opponent of the immigration push, to plot a strategy to torpedo it. Critics worry that House Republican leaders and Senate Democrats are essentially negotiating a final deal, bypassing formal House-Senate negotiations, where conservatives had hoped to derail the process.

Keep an eye on this. Even if Republicans continue to refuse to enter into conference, House Republicans, by passing piecemeal bills, will set in motion a kind of legislative Ping-Pong between the two chambers, quietly prodded along by back-channel talks between both sides, that could conceivably result in comprehensive reform.

* ANOTHER GOP ANTI-OBAMACARE TALKING POINT, DEBUNKED: Jonathan Cohn has the definitive takedown of the GOP’s latest Obamacare “bailout” mumbo jumbo. The key point:

The premiums insurance companies are offering this year are lower than the CBO expected. As a result, the federal government will probably end up spending less — quite possibly a lot less — subsidizing private insurance for the poor and middle class. So even if the taxpayers have to pay more to insurers through risk corridor payments, they will be paying less to insurers through subsidies.

As Cohn notes, however, it’s very likely that the facts won’t get in the way of a massive GOP ad campaign hammering away at this “bailout” this fall.

* OBAMA, THE SCOURGE OF THE ONE PERCENT: Paul Krugman, responding to the latest plutocratic whine about poor, persecuted one-percenters, makes an important point:

Between the partial rollback of the Bush tax cuts and the tax hike that partly pays for health reform, tax rates on the 1 percent have gone more or less back to pre-Reagan levels. Also, financial reformers have won some surprising victories over the past year, and this is bad news for wheeler-dealers whose wealth comes largely from exploiting weak regulation. So you can make the case that the 1 percent have lost some important policy battles…he has done more than many progressives give him credit for — and like F.D.R., both he and progressives in general should welcome that hatred, because it’s a sign that they’re doing something right.

I’d add that this really demonstrates the absurdity of one of the right’s talking points against Obama’s focus on inequality — that the fact that the rich have done well under Obama somehow invalidates that focus.

* IRAN SANCTIONS BILL HAS LOST MOMENTUM: Senators Carl Levin and Angus King make an extensive case against the Iran sanctions bill. It really does look like there may be no vote on it if current conditions persist. But don’t underestimate the possibility of a lot of Dems voting for it if it does get to the floor.

* AND THE FACTOID OF THE DAY, GOP-WOMAN-PROBLEM EDITION: National Journal comes up with an interesting nugget:

A National Journal survey of the key Senate races of 2014 found that only two out of 33 GOP campaigns had female campaign managers. In states expected to feature the most competitive general-election races, the disparity is even worse: Republicans have  zero women running campaigns…the paucity of women in the top spot has raised fears the party is still ill-equipped to reach women in 2014.

What else?

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