The Obama Agenda: 5 Big Ideas for 2011

"If the Democrats aren't populist, who the hell are we?" Belcher asks. "We've left the far right an opening to make an end run around us on populism." That's exactly what the Tea Party did in 2010, successfully assailing Obama's support for bailing out the banks and auto industry. Belcher points out that Americans are as mad at banks and credit card companies as they are at "big government." Obama can boost his standing by emphasizing how his administration is "empowering working families to protect themselves from big corporate interests," Belcher says. When it comes to selling policies like healthcare reform and Wall Street regulation, Belcher advises, Obama should point out the new rights individuals have to stem credit card abuses or previously restrictive health insurance rules. If he does that, legislation that remains abstract for many Americans will become more concrete and popular. 

Help Struggling Homeowners

The Obama administration's response to the housing crisis, the $46 billion Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), has been widely criticized as both insufficient and ineffectual. According to a December report by the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, "HAMP will prevent only 700,000 foreclosures — far fewer than the three to four million foreclosures that Treasury initially aimed to stop, and vastly fewer than the eight to 13 million foreclosures expected by 2012." That leaves millions of Americans still exposed to the foreclosure crisis, which remains one of the main drivers of the recession. "The biggest single thing Obama could do on the economy that would provide a massive boost would be a major mortgage write-down program," says Mike Lux, CEO of Progressive Strategies. "He doesn't have to have Congress to do it. He just needs federal agencies to start leaning on the banks." Given the bailout funds the banks received from the federal government, they owe Obama one. Lux calls the foreclosure crisis "the great sleeper issue" in American politics over the next two years."

Protect Social Security and Medicare

The Obama administration has made it clear that reducing the deficit is a major priority over the next two years. But whether he can out-hawk Republicans on this issue is questionable — not to mention that there's a good way and a bad way to balance the federal budget. Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of President Obama's deficit commission, outlined the good way: she released an alternative plan calling for reducing wasteful weapons systems, closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing corporate and upper income tax rates, reducing agricultural subsidies and spurring targeted economic growth to lift us out of the recession. The bad route toward deficit reduction, as unveiled by Obama deficit commission chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, two of the signature achievements of the Democratic Party and widely popular programs among the American public. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare, says Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future (which has released its own progressive deficit plan), would "cost Obama the next election and cause a revolt in his base." Most Americans agree. When asked in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll what the "first step" to balance the budget should be, 60 percent of Americans wanted to "increase taxes on the wealthy." Only 7 percent chose cuts to Social Security or Medicare. President Obama, are you listening?


Tags: budget deficit, economy, job creation, jobs, medicare, obama, obama administration, policy, social security, state of the union, unemployment

    • Ari Berman
    • Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and a fellow at The Nation Institute. He has written extensively about American politics, foreign policy, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York TimesRolling StoneE...

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