Friday, December 17, 2010

Lame Duck Round-Up

As the semester and Congress draw to a close, here's a look at some of the bills that are going to be brought up in Congress:

1. Tax Cuts:  As I previously mentioned, a tax deal compromise was being sent through Congress.  It's now been passed by both the House and the Senate and is waiting for Obama to sign.  This deal will extend all the tax cuts from the Bush era as well as unemployment benefits.  It will be a huge campaign issue in 2012 since the extension is only for two years.  Ezra Klein has his reaction.

2. DREAM Act: This act would be a huge boost to many immigrant children who were brought at a young age to America and wouldn't be able to survive if they were deported to their "home" country where they have no ties.  This act would allow for children of illegal immigrants to attend college or serve in the military for two years so they could gain citizenship.  It would go a long way to help solve the immigration problem the US is currently facing.

3. Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal:  With a vote set for Saturday on this bill, this would end discrimination against gays and lesbians who want to serve in the military.  Following a report that concluded that including gays and lesbians in the military wouldn't harm readiness or effectiveness, many Senators are ready to vote to repeal this act.  Hopefully the Senators will follow through and vote to end this discriminatory practice.

While that's only some of the bills coming up, time is running out for other initiatives such as the START treaty as well as these bills.  However a lot can still be accomplished over the next week and it will be exciting to see how Congress, especially the Senate votes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tax Cuts Again?

While it has yet to be voted on, pending agreement from the House Dems, it looks as if all Bush-era tax cuts will be extended for two years.  For those of you that don't know, back in 2001 and 2003, Bush made tax cuts to all tax brackets and these cuts were set to expire on Dec 31, 2010.  The proposed plan by Democrats, one that was passed by House Dems, would have extended the rates for people making under $250,000 a year but kept the cuts for all other families.  However, the Senate Republicans all pledged to filibuster any new legislation until the tax cuts were extended.  The Senate Democrats had two options, stand strong on their plan to fight the extension for all families, or cave in to the Republican pressure.  Unfortunately, they gave in to let all tax cuts extend.

So the question for this blog is why does this matter for young voters?

  • First, this will likely lead to cuts in education in the next year as part of "fixing the deficit".  While restoring the tax rates wouldn't have solved Congress' budget problems, it would have certainly helped, adding $60 billion to next year's budget.  Instead, Congress will have to make cuts and one of the usual go-to moves is cutting education.
  • Second, this continues to shift the deficit onto the shoulders of the next generation to take over Congress. Congress does not have an infinite amount of goodwill and eventually, will have to pay back the debt it's accumulated.  Each year of increased spending that goes by is another year further down the road where that spending will have to be made up by painful cuts. 
  • Third, this will likely be an election cycle issue as the cuts will expire in two years.  However, in two years, the Democrats won't have the House and will have less Senators then they do now.  Instead of making the cuts under $250,000 permanent and the $250,000+ cuts temporary, all cuts are temporary and will have to be extended.  All the Democrats seem to be doing now, is setting themselves up for failure further down the road.
Paul Krugman proposes another way the Democrats could have handled this situation.

The Washington Post runs down a few of the myths that are talking points of why the cuts should be extended.

Ezra Klein shows how the Democrats failed to capitalize on their momentum.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks For...

With a crazy year of election cycle politics, the question of what to be thankful for politics is relevant thanks to the never ending campaign circuit.  While it may seem as if a year of partisan bickering and campaigning would lead to total gridlock, Congress did manage to pass quite a few key bills that were pipe dreams a year ago.  So here's a quick rundown of what to be thankful for this year:

1. SAFRA:  Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.  This isn't the first time I'll mention it and it definitely won't be the last, but in my mind the greatest achievement of the past year was passing this bill.  SAFRA goes beyond keeping college affordable, it reformed an outdated model of loaning and truly can make a difference for many students.  This bill raised Pell Grant aid to $5,795 which had fallen far behind the necessary amount.  It also tied Pell Grants to costs-of-living to ensure Pell Grants won't lag behind raises in tuition.  It also eliminated an outdated model of bank subsidies that were no longer needed.  Instead of paying banks to give students loans, the government is now using those funds to hand out competitive loans of their own, saving the government money and using the savings to help send more kids to college.

2. Healthcare:  The new healthcare bill passed by Congress will give many people something to be thankful for.  First, it gives an additional 4 years on your parents health care plan so you can stay on until you're 26.  With extended college degrees delaying how soon people can get jobs to cover their health care, this provision is important to making sure people have access to health care until they can afford it their own.  Second, the bill prevents preexisting conditions from being a barrier to healthcare.  Previously, people could be denied for medical conditions that they desperately needed insurance to help cover the costs.  With the new bill, people can now access that health care insurance that could save their lives.

3. Saving the Chesapeake:  Locally, preserving the Chesapeake Bay is an important condition to ensuring Maryland's economic survival.  Many people in the Bay area rely on the Bay as their economic livelihood, whether it be through tourism, oyster farming, or crab harvesting.  Not only are these important economic commodities in the state, they are also one of the largest exports of Maryland.  With the previous Chesapeake Bay restoration plan expiring this year, the EPA is working to coordinate with all six states in the watershed to rededicate themselves to fixing the Bay up.  This renewed effort could be the push needed to make the Chesapeake a livable place for wildlife and restore it to it's natural beauty.

Still Need Seconds:  A list of things that I hope I can be thankful for next year.

1.  Environmental Legislation:  With the anti-scientific push of several members of Congress this legislation looks in serious jeopardy but is crucial to ensuring the survival of the American environment as well as to ensure future energy stores.  With rising urban sprawl, a focus on roads over public transit, and hazardous chemicals and carbon emissions damaging our environment, serious legislation is needed now to preserve the future of the environment.

2.  Economic Turnaround:   While there is not much that can really be done by politicians, an economic turnaround would make next year much better.  While the economy seems to be stepping back from the brink, there is still much work left to be done.  With any hope, job markets will have improved, unemployment will be lowered, and more people will be back at work by next Thanksgiving, especially when I'll be needing a job in just a few months.

3.  Restored Budget:  A serious problem facing America right now that will have a great impact on my generation's future is the ability of Congress now to reduce the deficit.  Without a comprehensive plan, the economic future of America will be in jeopardy with rising costs and bloated budgets.  Hopefully, by next year a plan to reduce the deficit to manageable levels will be in place, relieving the burden from the backs of my generation.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Youth Election Results

A lot of talk was made over whether young voters could build on the previous years of turnout and increase youth voting again.  While it is clear that they did not break the previous record of youth voting in a midterm of 2006, the decline if youth voters is far less than what most news organizations have been saying.  According to the most recent CIRCLE estimates, the percentage of youth voters was around 22.8%.  While it will still be a few more weeks before official results are in, this estimate is similar to the 23.5% that showed up in 2006.  But the important question is what do these totals represent?

For one thing, youth vote still remains the most liberal of any of the age groups.  As noted by many newspaper outlets and blogs, a large factor in the shift in Congress is a result of the enthusiasm gap where many Democrats stayed at home compared to 2008 while Republicans energized by the last few years showed up to change the makeup of Congress.  This is doubly true for young voters where they experienced a similar enthusiasm gap but also were not courted by most politicians.  While this clearly helped the Republicans gain control, if President Obama wishes to stay in office, the youth vote must be a priority in 2012.  But politicians seem lost in what ways youth turnout can be increased.  While this isn't a comprehensive list here are some easy ways to energize young voters:

  • Election Day Registration:  Being able to register to vote on election day and then voting is one of the single biggest ways to increase youth turnout.  One of the main reasons is the problems and confusion surrounding voting at a college campus.  I'll do a rundown on the benefits of Election Day Registration in a later post but with many problems regarding proving residency, many students are given provisional ballots on election day which usually don't get counted.  At the University of Maryland, over 1/3 of the voters were given provisional ballots.
  • Touting Accomplishments:  While this Congress did help out young people with the student aid financial reform, many students weren't aware of the changes that occurred.  By making the accomplishments of your party known to young voters, it can prove that their vote wasn't wasted and the issues affecting young voters are getting the attention they deserve.
  • Focusing on Youth Issues:  A large problem is that despite the results of the 2010 election, both parties still ignore the issues young people want.  While college is certainly one issue, many other issues such as climate change legislation, raising minimum wage, and public transit are important to young people.  Additionally, as the most diverse age group, issues such as "immigration, violence in urban cities, and public education" are important to many youth voters of color and still have not given the attention they need.      
  • Appealing to Young Voters:  One of the final pieces is simply making the dialogue about young voters. The news cycle and ads largely ignored any issues that interested young voters.  Most ads that I saw were focused on kicking out incumbents, the stimulus, and repealing health care.  The first two are not a priority of young voters and health care, while allowing young voters to stay on a plan until 26, bill mostly focused on reforms for older people.
If you're still in need of more facts and analysis here are a few good articles about the results:

Peter Levine the director of CIRCLE, asks what the youth turnout means?

CIRCLE also has a really good breakdown of young voters in 2010 if you have the time.

Ezra Klein of the WaPo shows how important young voters were to Democrats in 2008 and 2010.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Countdown 7 Hours Left

Well unfortunately my efforts to post every day about the election have failed but that doesn't make today any less important.  In just a few hours (I started this at 1 AM, there will be even less hours until voting time by the time I finish), polls will be opening up on the East Coast.  In many races, tightly contested seats will be won and lost based on who shows up.  The Eastern Shore District (MD-1) is an example of why your vote matters.  In 2008, Frank Kratovil beat Andy Harris by only 1,000 votes on election day.  Any surge for either party could have easily decided that election.  And it's still tight this year with the possibility of the district going either way.

But candidates alone aren't the only reason to go to the polls today.  In Montgomery County, a hotly contested ambulance fee is being put on referendum.  This fee would charge $300-800 for ambulance rides to provide additional funds for the County budget.  This issue will likely be one of the largest draws for people to show up to the polls today in Montgomery County since most of the seats are already locked up.

However, Montgomery County is the only county to have a major referendum coming up.  Anne Arundel County will be voting on another contested issue of whether there should be slot machines at Anne Arundel Mall.  This issue was already voted on by Maryland voters to allow the legislature to constitutionally allow slot machines but this referendum could decide the fate of slots in Maryland.

One of the most interesting ballot measures going on in Maryland is the Constitutional Convention.  Every 20 years, Maryland is required by law to allow voters to vote on creating a constitutional convention.  This is rooted in the idea of the Founding Fathers that the constitution should be reexamined every generation.  So this election could decide the state of the constitution for the next 20 years.

There are several other ballot measures going on in the state of Maryland and the counties which are all listed here.

Of course the biggest election in Maryland will be that of the governor.  Current governor Martin O'Malley is entering a rematch with former governor Robert Ehrlich.  In 2006, O'Malley won 52-46 but this year it looks to move farther in favor of O'Malley with current polls ranging from +5 to +14.  However, that isn't any less reason to vote as any motivated electorate base could swing the race more towards Ehrlich's favor.  For a quick rundown of what the different candidates are offering check out this Washington Post article about the candidate's messages.

Finally, if you don't know where you are registered to vote or where your polling location is, head over to your state board of elections.  Here's Maryland's for those of you that need it.

And for those of you that are interested in elections nationwide, here's some election day excitement for you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Election Countdown 5 Days Left!

Sorry for the long delay in posting but for those of you that aren't already aware, election day is right around the corner and I've been busy out getting people to vote.  For those of you that didn't see, Obama was on the Daily Show last night.  Also, an interesting read from the Washington Post.  This Tuesday, November 2nd, millions of people will be casting votes for governors, congressmen, propositions, and countless local officials.  So to get into the election spirit I'll be counting down with a different reason to vote each day.  These aren't necessarily in order of importance since everyone has their own reasons for voting but here goes.

Make the Youth Presence Known

Much was made about the number of young voters that showed up in 2008, as it was the largest number of young people that had since 1992.  Many politicians and news organizations wondered if this was a one year phenomena or whether young people were finally going to be a consistent voting bloc.  The Obama administration was praised for the way they had turned out young people to vote and it was apparent by the 2/3 margin he won the youth vote by that it was successful.  As 2010 approached, it seemed like the next step in youth voting would be seen.  However, many people are now questioning whether that step will be forward  or backward.

Given the history of youth turnout, it is easy for campaigns to simply say that they should save their resources by focusing on more reliable targets but by doing so they are missing the larger picture.  With the young people, there is a large untapped pool of voters that need a politician or party to get behind.  If politicians focused efforts into college campuses, they could capture a largely undecided electorate that, as seen in 2008, can greatly effect a race.

However, the national news media and most politicians are content to ignore the results of the 2008 election and are instead campaigning on traditional methods.  This is why it is important for young people to turn out to vote in these midterms.  It doesn't matter what issue you find most important.  With young people being the most diverse electorate group, there's no single issue that can motivate the entire base.  Many polls show that the economy, educations, and health care are leading issues, but any issue that motivates you as an individual is a reason to show up.  As long as a large group of young people show up to vote, politicians will begin to realize that we can decide whether they continue to stay in office.  They will be forced to listen to the issues that we care about, or risk losing their jobs.  So find an issue or issues that you care about, find out the opinions of the candidates in your district and vote on who you think best represents you.  Your issue may not be a leading issue on their campaign, but if enough young voters show up, your issue can become a priority.  And next election, it will be that much harder for politicians to ignore us.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama Town Hall Pt 1

Last Thursday, MTV/BET/CMT held a town hall with President Obama where he answered questions from students and youth voters. You can find the full video on the BET site. They included a Twitter Tracker where they scanned twitter to see what questions people wanted answered. It was an interesting idea, using hashtags such as #askjobs or #askeconomy for people that couldn't make it to still ask questions about specific issues. It was a nice try to incorporate new technologies, but the focus and hype given to how cool they are for using twitter almost made it seem like your parents asking you to Facebook them to show how hip they are.

Quick Take:

  • Obama did a good job of recapping some his legislative highlights which is pretty important because he did accomplish quite a few great things that aren't mentioned often enough (SAFRA)
  • He makes a few strong commitments (ending Don't Ask Don't Tell) that are reassuring to see he is still committed to the promises he made in 08.
  • He knows when to turn on the knowledge and explain some of the issues that young people are less knowledgeable about.
  • Sidesteps most questions when asked about future actions and instead talks in vague promises to reform this or fix that. Makes it seem like he thinks young people either couldn't understand or wouldn't notice that most of his answers aren't very substantive.
  • Sometimes just ignored the question and used it instead to make sure he hit his talking points on the issue brought up.
  • The Twitter Tracker, I find it hard to believe that out of the 250 people in attendance, they couldn't find enough good questions. Yes twitter allows you to connect in real time but they could've spent less time checking the Twitter Tracker and just asked a question somebody sent in via Twitter.

The first question came from a Republican who praised Obama for campaigning in 08 on the promise of bipartisanship but felt betrayed when he ignored Republican suggestions on the Healthcare bill that was passed earlier this year.

Obama sidestepped responding to any issue based proposals and framed the question as that he intended to work together with the Republicans but they collectively refused to work with the Democrats on the bill. He then used the opportunity to talk about what the bill accomplished and how it affects young people, can stay on parents plan until you're 26, abolish lifetime limits and preexisting condition denials and then promised to work more with Republicans on upcoming issues after the midterm elections. It has been pretty clear that Republicans have been doing their best to stall Democratic initiatives by voting no on quite a few bills, Obama claimed that there were Republican ideas in the bill that were added but failed to mention any. It would've been good to see some explanation of Republican ideas instead of just blaming Republicans and using the time to praise the bill.

A pretty good question is asked here, what is going to be done about rising unemployment rates and why should young people vote for Obama and support his policies. The question is especially relevant for many young people who, upon graduation, find out that a bachelor's degree isn't necessarily good enough to find them a job in their desired market.

Obama's response was that he inherited the job losses from the previous administration and then cites some statistics to show that more jobs would have been lost if his economic policies weren't initiated. Obama says that private sector jobs are growing and then mentions this elections hot word, small businesses, referencing his bill that provides loans to small businesses. He brings up the contentious Bush tax cuts as proof of his commitment to trying to ease the financial burden on people. He does his best to address the issue but with so much going on and the amount of time that has been put in to fix the economy and the amount of time it takes to recover it's tough to fully explain this issue in 5 minutes.

In this one, a student who felt that her primary education in DC wasn't enough and that college prices are impossible for some individuals to afford asks what Obama has done about these.

At this point Professor Obama takes over, giving the students a history lesson of how primary education came about. He rails on how we've slipped in the rankings and speaks of his commitment to making America #1 in all education aspects but doesn't really say much of how to achieve the goal besides teach better and get better teachers. It's easy to say but a lot harder to back up. Not to say the Obama administration hasn't shown dedication to school reform, but the Race to the Top program was only awarded to a handful of states and wasn't compulsory reform. It's a good start, but there's still a long way to go.

However, I greatly applaud Obama's efforts on making college more affordable. I wasn't even aware of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives a $2,500 tax credit for any individual making less than $80,000 or married couple with an income of less than $160,000 for school. That article does a great job of explaining fully the system and it's benefits. But my favorite legislation of the last year is the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. Obama mentions this, and rightly so, as it is an amazing achievement to promote higher education. This bill increases the amount of money available in Pell Grant aid, and eliminates government subsidies to banks for student loans and instead uses the subsidy money to increase government funded student loans. This bill has a lot of other great stuff which I will talk about more in depth on another post but moving on.

A student who was a victim of anonymous cyber bullying asks what can be done to eliminate this harassment.

A somewhat lackluster response, essentially saying that the administration will make sure "institutions" are aware that cyber bullying is bad and can sometimes break the law. As well as reminding the audience that what they say online can be hurtful. Other than mentioning that a summit was held, with no real details about what came out of the summit, the response didn't really say how to solve the problem.

A good question, especially given the recent injunction, as to why Obama hasn't done an Executive Order to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell.

First, this video is a great example of how charismatic Obama is. He has no problem engaging the audience and it goes a long way in gaining support. This is pretty much the best explanation of Obama's strategy so far on this issue. 1. He can't sign an executive order to end DADT because Congress has passed a law recognizing it. 2. He explains the steps he's taken to make sure Congress repeals the act, talking with military leaders, and talking with legislators. While he could be more outspoken, his efforts in making sure this is done the right way to fix this policy once and for all are commendable.

Favorite Quote: "This policy will end and it will end on my watch"

6. Sexual Orientation

A kinda annoying plug for their Twitter Tracker station but a good question is asked about is being gay/trans a choice:

This one is a nice layup for Obama and he answers appropriately, it's not a choice and "discrimination of sexual orientation is wrong".

Kinda surprised to see a questions about Social Security since it's not really a "cool" topic but the student asks what will be done to ensure Social Security doesn't go bankrupt:

Professor Obama shows up again to explain what exactly happens in 2018, the year Social Security is set to start taking in less money than is given out. I was pretty happy that the Professor returned because while I had vague knowledge on Social Security, his explanation of the steps he's taking and the problem at hand was really informational.

Bonus Round:

Also in question 7, the announcer, referencing a Nancy Pelosi quote saying that the Tea Party is a false grassroots movement, asks Obama his opinion on the Tea Party.

Obama handles this about as well as I could've expected, saying that the political enthusiasm of the Tea Party is good because the point of the American democracy is to encourage political engagement and that many of the people are genuinely interested. While it's true there are some questionable Tea Party political candidates, anytime a large group of Americans take interest in politics, it's hard for that to be a bad thing.

Double bonus, Obama rails on anonymous corporate ads which are a result of arguably one of the worst Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. This decision essentially allows corporations to give as much money as they want in the form of political ads without disclosing who is funding them or what organization they're coming from besides the shady fake corporations that are set up to funnel this money.

Well that's all for the first half, second half recap coming up soon.