Thursday, May 23, 2013

Senwate Aide Michael Piwowar Is Nominated to SEC by Obama

Michael Piwowar, the chief Republican economist for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, was nominated to the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Barack Obama.

His term would expire in 2018, Obama said today in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Reichl in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rutgers' two athletic director finalists each have one past issue to explain

Regardless of whether Rutgers introduces Sean Frazier or Julie Hermann as its next athletic director later this week – which the school appears bent on doing – the person who replaces Tim Pernetti likely faces further scrutiny for one red flag in his or her past.

Rutgers, which has accelerated the search for a new athletic director, has seen the original group of three finalists reduced to two after Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh withdrew from consideration Sunday night.

Barring an unforeseen changes, that leaves a bright light focused squarely on the professional histories of Frazier and Hermann -- particularly after it was revealed on Friday that new basketball coach Eddie Jordan never graduated from Rutgers even though he had been listed in official school releases and a bio on the Scarlet Knights' athletics website as having done so.

In the case of Hermann, the senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at the University of Louisville, a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee when she was the head volleyball coach there is something Rutgers officials would have to reconcile if she is hired.

Assistant volleyball coach Ginger Hineline won her $150,000 suit against the school in 1997.

According to the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel’s reporting on the suit, Hineline said she asked Hermann if she would lose her job if she became pregnant and that Hermann responded by saying “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Julie and I had various conversations that discouraged me from becoming pregnant,” the paper quoted Hineline as saying.

For Frazier, the deputy athletic director at Wisconsin (making him the No. 2 athletic administrator at the school), there remains the issue of how much he knew about a 2012 Rose Bowl party in which there were allegations of sexual assault against athletic department administrator John Chadina, who allegedly made unwanted sexual advances to a student employee of the athletic department, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Neither athletic director Barry Alvarez nor Frazier attended the party, which had been a yearly bowl staple for the school. It prompted an internal investigation by the school, with the paper reporting that “issues about athletic department-sponsored underage drinking, a lack of oversight by athletic department officials and how long this behavior has been going on remain.”

Frazier was never linked to any of the wrongdoing, but he and Alvarez are ultimately responsible for the behavior of athletic department administrators.

Hermann may also have to explain why she is suddenly interested in becoming an athletic director for the first time after telling The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a 2011 story about female college administrators, that she enjoyed her role as “silent partner” to athletic director Tom Jurich.

The article said Hermann “relishes the responsibilities she has as the Cardinals’ No. 2.” She is in her 16th year at the school.

“I’ve never thrown my hat in the ring (to be an athletic director),” Hermann was quoted as saying. “I’m not interested in being a candidate.”

Now she is a finalist to assume command of athletic department awash in turmoil and red ink.

Hermann does supervise 20 of Louisville's 23 sports and oversees the school's marketing efforts and fundraising -- the latter two being essential as Rutgers prepares to join the Big Ten in 2014.

Frazier, who came to Wisconsin in 2007, has experience as an athletic director at Manhattanville College, Clarkson and Merrimack. He also deals with football, something Hermann would have to add to her responsibilities if she is hired by Rutgers.

Though Alvarez is listed as Wisconsin's athletic director, Frazier is largely responsible for the daily operation of the department.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Former Queensland Health Director General Michael Read claims senior bureaucrats said payroll system would work

THE man in charge of Queensland Health when the payroll system imploded says he was re-assured by his senior bureaucrats the system would work, an inquiry has been told.

Former Queensland Health Director General, Michael Read, took the stand at the Queensland Payroll Inquiry on Tuesday.

He told Counsel Assisting Peter Flanagan, SC, that he was told by Michael Kalimnios, the former deputy director
general of corporate services at Queensland Health, that glitches arising before the system went live in March of 2010 would be fixed.

Ms Kalimnios, who was dismissed from his job following the payroll debacle, is one of the few senior bureaucrats to accept any responsibility for the debacle.

Mr Read said Mr Kalimnios kept him briefed of difficulties implementing the system but did not ask him to take further action.

"I cannot recall him asking to take any other action other than what I did,'' Mr Read said.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

"Progressively the problems were being dealt with.

"And that was right up to 'go-live'."

The inquiry before Richard Chesterman, QC, is examining all facets of the payroll contract which was part of a vast
outsourcing program won by IBM in 2007.

After under-paying and over-paying thousands of Queensland Health employees since implementation in 2010, the collapsed payroll system continues to be a drain on state finances and is predicted to cost the taxpayer $1.2 billion.

Mr Read told the inquiry on Tuesday he did not attend one meeting with IBM in 2009 over concerns with implementation of the new system because he did not think his presence was required.

Mr Flanagan said as a customer of IBM, Mr Read had every right to attend the meeting and suggested that, because of the problems being experienced, Mr Read had a duty to attend.

"That is the very occasion when a director general should involve himself,'' Mr Flanagan suggested.

Mr Read said the meeting was attended by former director of public works Mal Grierson, which was appropriate given the payroll contract was between IBM and the government in-house IT outfit CorpTech.

Mr Read said he believed he had broad responsibilities in relation to the contract but did not believe he was required to manage the issue in such a direct fashion.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

McIlroy uses Texas Open to get 'sharp' for Augusta

Rory McIlroy's last-minute, last-ditch effort to right his game in time for the Masters next week has taken a trip to a usually out-of-the-way spot on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy and three other highly-ranked players in the Official World Golf Rankings start play in the Valero Texas Open on Thursday at TPC San Antonio.

"It obviously was a last-minute decision to come and play here in San Antonio," McIlroy said after his pro-am round Wednesday was washed out by rainstorms on his 13th hole. "But from what I see I like it. It should be a good week, a week where I can try to get my game sharp going to Augusta."

Big-name players don't often seek the Greg Norman-designed Oaks Course at TPC to sharpen their games.

Last year only two members of golf's top 50 (no one in the top 15) played on a course that ended with the highest overall scoring average on tour except the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course. In addition to McIlroy, top-15 ranked players Matt Kuchar (ninth), Ian Poulter (12th) and Charl Schwartzel (15th) are teeing it up. Ben Curtis, 2003 British Open winner, is defending champ.

Yet McIlroy's play since he won the PGA Championship by a record eight-shot margin in August has dropped him a spot, from No. 1 to 2, while Tiger Woods went back to the top after three wins.

McIlroy started the year swinging the same brand of clubs as Woods, but not the same game. He missed a cut at Abu Dhabi, walked off the course as defending champ at Honda and got beat in opening-round play at the World Match Play in Arizona.

"I don't care if I miss 10 cuts in a row -- if I win a major," McIlroy said. "I don't care. I mean, that's what it's all about, winning the big tournaments."

McIlroy comes to San Antonio for the first time, and he's off his second made cut of the year, a 45th-place finish at the Shell Houston Open. Though notables like Woods and Phil Mickelson aren't attracted to the TPC course as Masters preparation, other players who have come here share McIlroy's view of getting in one more competitive event and dismiss his recent skid.

"All Rory has to worry about is peaking the right weeks," said Padraig Harrington, also in the Texas field. "His game is plenty good enough that when he does peak, he can lap fields."

In addition to the hardscrabble layout Norman crafted in the beginnings of the Texas Hill Country, the weather plays havoc on the event. Last year, Matt Every shot an opening-round 63, a course record, in rather benign conditions. The next day he teed it up with a wind that suddenly howled at 30 mph in places and he shot 74.

Winds could reach 25 mph during Thursday's opening round.

McIlroy got in a full practice round on Tuesday before getting washed out on the back nine Wednesday.

Though Mickelson was critical of the tour last week for stopping at the TPC course the week before The Masters, Poulter recently decided it was a good move for him to play.

"Phil's mentioned that it's the wrong thing for him to do, to come to a course like this to play golf, but I disagree," Poulter said. "I'm happy to stand on that tee next Thursday (at Augusta National), and I've got to hit it 10 yards left of that bunker, I'm fine with that. I can pick up on that pretty quick."

The TPC course had four greens altered and two fairways widened before this year's event. Yet some places remain unchanged, like the tree-choked right side of the par-4 9th where Kevin Na drove his tee shot two years ago and finally emerged with a score of 16. He's not here this year.

"And you don't want to hit it in the greenside bunkers here because you're unlikely to get a decent stance and lie," Harrington said. "That's very unpopular among us professional golfers because we like to have nice lies and we like to have everything perfect."

Maybe it's not perfect. But it will have to do for players running out of time to hone their games — like McIlroy — with a green jacket waiting in Georgia.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama to tap Perez to head Labor Department Aamer Madhani11:29p.m. EDT March 17, 2013

President Obama will name the Justice Department's top civil rights enforcer Thomas Perez to be his next Labor secretary, according to a White House official.

Obama will make the formal announcement on Monday, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been officially made.

Perez has a long career in public service. Before he was appointed to run the civil rights division at Justice in October 2009, Perez was chosen by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to head the state's Department of Labor. He also served on the Montgomery County, Md., Council, and spent nearly 12 years in federal government. Most of that time was spent as an attorney in the civil rights division.

Obama is expected to trumpet that under Perez, the civil rights division settled the three largest fair lending cases for unfair mortgage lending practices and substantially increased enforcement of human trafficking laws.

But his nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, is expected to face tough scrutiny from Republicans following a Justice Department Inspector General report released last week that was sharply critical of Perez.

The report determined that Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2010 when he testified Justice's political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the George W. Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party,

"We found that Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees," the report said. "We did not find that Perez intentionally misled the commission. Nevertheless, given he was testifying as a department witness before the commission, we believe that Perez should have sought more details."

Following the release of the report last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was sharply critical of Perez.

"The Attorney General should demand unbiased advice from department attorneys and the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez, who appears to also have been woefully unprepared to answer questions in front of the Civil Rights Commission on a subject matter he told the Inspector General he expected questions on," Grassley said in a statement.

A few of Obama's second-term Cabinet and agency appointees have already faced tough confirmations. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's nomination was grilled about past comments he made about Israel, and CIA Director John Brennan's confirmation was slowed over questions about the agency's drone program.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who Obama was considering to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department, removed herself from consideration after facing blistering criticism from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The senators blasted Rice for inaccurate comments she made in the days after the Sep. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

If confirmed, Perez, 51, will replace Hilda Solis who announced her resignation from the post in January.

The pick could also ease pressure on Obama from Hispanic groups who have been urging the president to appoint a Latino to a Cabinet level position after the departures of Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also recently announced he was stepping down.

Perez is a Harvard educated lawyer and the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His father died when he was 12.

"Thomas Perez is an eminently qualified public servant who has the professional experience and compelling personal story to serve at the highest levels of the administration," said Janet MurguĂ­a, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group. "Mr. Perez's impeccable legal background in civil rights issues, particularly workers' rights, as well as his decades of service as an elected and appointed official make him uniquely prepared to address the policy complexities and management responsibilities at the Department of Labor."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rubio casts Obama as hurting middle class

Sen. Marco Rubio cast President Obama on Tuesday night as a barrier to free enterprise with an "obsession" about raising taxes, as he outlined the Republican vision for helping the middle class.

Rubio, a Florida senator, delivered the official Republican response to Obama's State of the Union in both English and Spanish. The Tea Party favorite spoke in personal terms about the impact of government programs such as Medicare on his life and those of his neighbors.

MORE: Rubio's sip of water lights up Twitter

"Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood where I grew up. My neighbors aren't millionaires," Rubio said. "The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle-class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs."

He chastised Obama for offering proposals that represent big government, such as the nation's health care law. "More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back," Rubio said, arguing that the Constitution put limits on government for a reason.

Rubio specifically called for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and urged both parties to work together to solve the nation's economic woes.

"Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America," Rubio will say. "If we can get our economic healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation for responsible for America's decline."

Rubio is the latest in a string of rising Republican stars to give the high-profile rebuttal to Obama on national television. The senator's speech came as Rubio plays a leadership role in bipartisan efforts to revamp the nation's immigration system, including a plan to give the 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citzenship.

"We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally," he said. "But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."

After Rubio's speech, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivered a response on behalf of the Tea Party and sounded themes popular with the small-government, anti-tax movement.

"It is time for a new bipartisan consensus," Paul said. "It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud."

Former White House speechwriters said before the speeches that Rubio needed to deliver sound bites and speak to GOP goals, without looking as though he was advancing his own political ambitions.

Yet the hype surrounding Rubio — hailed by Time magazine as a "savior" of the Republican Party and labeled by GOP strategist Karl Rove as the party's "best communicator since Ronald Reagan" — posed a challenge.

"Rubio has broadly the instinct for talking about the greatness of this country," said Clark Judge, a former Reagan speechwriter and managing director of the White House Writers Group, a communications firm. "We don't know yet if he has the depth in policy or philosophy."

Few responses to the State of the Union Address live on in history. Senate GOP leader Bob Dole in 1994 was memorable because he used an elaborate flow chart to counter President Clinton's pitch to revamp the nation's health care system. That chart came to symbolize what Republicans saw as the bureaucratic morass that would come from Clinton's health care proposal.

On the flip side, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is remembered in a negative way for his 2009 response to Obama because he was stiff and his prose was described in news reports as "cheesy." It took awhile for Jindal, also heralded as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, to recover from his debut on a national stage.

"The odds are greater that you're going to disappoint people," said Jeff Shesol, who helped write Bill Clinton's 1999 and 2000 State of the Union speeches. "This is a dangerous speech for Rubio to give in terms of his personal political future and because he is seen as the principal Republican rebrander. " 

Monday, February 4, 2013

3 Lessons From Obama's Cliff Victories for Immigration Push

When President Obama delivers the first State of the Union address of his second term next Tuesday, he will be riding a wave of political victories into the coral lined shores of the United States Congress. A tumble into the rough waters of legislative gridlock in the months ahead could cause major damage to the president's second term legislative agenda. There are several lessons from Obama's political wins on the fiscal cliff that both sides should keep in mind when working on immigration legislation and other legislative initiatives.

1. Have a simple, effective pitch: After the knock down drag out fight over raising the debt ceiling in 2011, Obama's team realized they needed a more effective message for future fiscal fights. By characterizing the Republican reluctance to raise the debt limit as akin to refusing to pay for goods already placed on the credit card, Obama had a kitchen table explanation for a complex macroeconomic issue. A similar approach to a comprehensive immigration bill, which due to its size and scope will contain something unpalatable for both parties, will be essential to avoid a death by 1,000 cuts.

2. Seek the support of the opposition's traditional allies: Obama shrewdly courted corporate America, holding meetings with executives whose bottom lines would be adversely affected by another debt limit standoff. These traditional Republican supporters were able to convey the urgency of the issue to the GOP better than anyone else. It's always easier to take advice from a friend than a foe. The president should reach out to business leaders -- who would have much to gain from the certainty that an immigration deal could provide -- again to help sell a plan. Republicans should approach the immigration debate with as an opportunity to reach out to Asians and Hispanics that have trended heavily towards supporting Democrats.

3. Exploit unforced errors: Intransigent Republicans in the House derailed Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" fiscal proposal, which substantially limited the leverage the party had in discussions over a final solution. That meant that the final deal went even further to the left and needed overwhelming Democratic support in the House to prevent an economic disaster. That served to weaken the strong fiscally responsible economic image Republicans had burnished in previous debates. Republicans need a deal, and Obama should try to work with them. While one side exploiting the other's fumble may again be decisive, a keen focus by both sides on minimizing mistakes and misstatements would allow each to bring their best to the effort of passing immigration reform.

Getting a deal on immigration will be tougher than the fiscal cliff (there is not a credit downgrade or economic meltdown at stake and thus less incentive to deal), but it is still possible if both President Obama and the Republicans learn from past successes, do not repeat missteps and seek to truly make this a win-win effort.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Republicans Bristle at Obama's New Roster

President Barack Obama's most recent nominations and appointments show that he is assembling a muscular senior team of trusted allies to carry out his second-term plans, without concern for Republican sensitivities, some GOP officials say.

With his second-term appointments largely complete, the president has built a cadre of officials and aides that some say is more for combat than consensus—to execute policies rooted in the Democratic ideals laid out in his inaugural speech last week.

By contrast, midway through his first term the president named William Daley as his chief of staff, choosing someone with ties to the corporate world in an overture to Republicans and business leaders.

On Friday, Mr. Obama announced he was naming someone of a different mold as his top aide: Denis McDonough, a longtime deputy with no independent political base, whose primary purpose will be to put in place the president's policies.

Mr. Obama wants to elevate his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to Treasury secretary, though Republicans soured on Mr. Lew during the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Some Republicans who worked with Mr. Lew said he spent hours in fruitless attempts to persuade Republicans that their position was the wrong one.

Earlier this month, Mr. Obama nominated as his defense secretary former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom critics describe as an ersatz Republican who broke party ranks and endorsed Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Mr. Hagel will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

Senate Republicans are expected to zero in on Mr. Hagel's vote in opposition to naming the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and to question a comment he once made about the "Jewish lobby."

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) was asked if, in a private meeting last week, Mr. Hagel had addressed his concerns.

"Not really," Mr. McCain said.

Another battle with Republicans may lie ahead: Mr. Obama will soon name a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and he is likely to choose someone in sync with the aggressive approach he hinted at in his inaugural speech. In that address, Mr. Obama gave an unusually prominent warning about the threat of climate change. His best option for rolling back greenhouse-gas emissions rests with the EPA, which won a string of recent court cases upholding its authority to regulate the pollutants.

"You've gone through a lot of legislative achievement in the first term, and execution is everything in a second term," said John Podesta, who has close ties to the White House and who served as chief of staff under Bill Clinton. "So he has a clear strategy. … And what he needs are people who can execute that strategy."

Ken Duberstein, who served as chief of staff in Ronald Reagan's second term, said Mr. Obama might rethink his approach and find ways to compromise. "He has to do it if he is to accomplish his broad agenda," he said. "You can't just do it by sticking your finger in people's eyes."

Mr. Obama has four more years in office. But in practical terms, he needs to move quickly to advance his domestic agenda. A re-elected president has finite political capital and a compressed period to act before Congress is diverted by the midterm elections and then the next presidential election.

Were Mr. Obama inclined to reach out to Republicans, he might not have renominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In making the Cordray announcement last week, the president renewed a fight with Senate Republicans who have said they want changes in the bureau's structure as the price of confirming a nominee.

Mr. Obama seems unmoved by that argument, which has angered Republicans.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.), a member of the Senate committee that will conduct Mr. Cordray's confirmation hearing, called the renomination "a troublesome situation."

"We just wanted the opportunity to try to bring some common sense remedies to what we saw as a very flawed system," Mr. Johanns added. "I have misgivings about that nomination. It's very possible I won't be able to support him."

More insight into the president's second-term approach may come when he nominates an EPA administrator. Both environmentalists and oil-and-coal industry lobbyists have said they would approve of an internal choice, such as Bob Perciasepe, currently the No. 2 EPA official. Mr. Perciasepe helped negotiate vehicle fuel-economy rules during Mr. Obama's first term and is viewed by both sides as a person who seeks common ground.

But the president could make a more assertive statement by choosing an official who has waged climate battles, such as former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who signed an emissions-cutting law.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama Defense Pick Faces Rough Going in Senate

 President Barack Obama's pick of Chuck Hagel to helm the Pentagon faces rough going in the Senate as a handful of Republicans quickly announced their opposition to a former GOP colleague, and several skeptical Democrats reserved judgment until the nominee explains his views on Israel and Iran.

The concerns about Hagel complicate his path to Senate confirmation but are not necessarily calamitous as the White House pushes for the first Vietnam War veteran to oversee a military emerging from two wars and staring at deep budget cuts.

Obama also tapped White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, faces no major obstacles, but he is expected to be hit with questions about torture and administration leaks of secret information.

Moments after Obama announced his selection of Hagel and called him "the leader that our troops deserve," some Senate Republicans voiced opposition to the former Nebraska lawmaker who spent 12 years in the Senate.

"Given Chuck Hagel's statements and actions on a nuclear Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, I think his confirmation would send exactly the wrong message to our allies and enemies alike," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in a statement. "Israel, our strongest ally in the region, is dealing with a lot of threat and uncertainty right now; Hagel would make that even worse."

 Other Senate Republicans, including the No. 2 GOP lawmaker, John Cornyn of Texas, new member Ted Cruz of Texas and Mississippi's Roger Wicker, signaled they would vote against the nomination.

Hagel has upset some Israel backers with his comment about the "Jewish lobby," his votes against unilateral sanctions against Iran while backing international penalties on the regime in Tehran and his criticism of talk of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran.

He also upset gay rights groups over past comments, including his opposition in 1998 to President Bill Clinton's choice of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. He referred to Hormel as "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel recently apologized, saying his comments were "insensitive."

Those remarks and actions have created fierce opposition from some pro-Israel groups, criticism from some Republicans and unease among some congressional Democrats.

The Log Cabin Republicans took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post highlighting their opposition to Hagel, and Gregory T. Angelo, interim executive director of the gay rights group, said the gay and lesbian grassroots organization is considering other steps in a campaign against Hagel's nomination.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who does not have a vote on the nomination, called Hagel the "wrong man" for the job and complained that "his inflammatory statements about Israel are well outside the mainstream."

In an interview with the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Hagel said his statements have been distorted and there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel."

In a critical sign of support for Hagel's prospects, the 66-year-old moderate Republican attracted words of praise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Intelligence panel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On the Left, Seeing Obama Giving Away Too Much, Again

For President Obama, the fiscal deal passed by Congress on Tuesday finally ends four years of debate with Republicans about raising tax rates on the wealthy. But it seemed to reopen a debate within his party about the nature of his leadership and his skills as a negotiator. 

While Mr. Obama got most of what he sought in the agreement, he found himself under withering criticism from some in his liberal base who accused him of caving in to Republicans by not taxing the rich more. Just as Speaker John A. Boehner has been under pressure from his right, Mr. Obama faces a virtual Tea Party of the left that sees his compromise as capitulation. 

The main difference is that in the Obama era, the Democratic establishment has been less influenced, or intimidated, by the left than the Republican establishment has been by the right. Liberals have not mounted sustained primary challenges to take out wayward incumbents the way conservatives have. All but three Democrats voting in the Senate and 16 in the House supported the compromise on Tuesday, even as most House Republicans balked, giving Mr. Obama more room to operate than Mr. Boehner. 

But the wave of grievance from liberal activists, labor leaders and economists suggested that the uneasy truce between Mr. Obama and his base that held through the campaign season had expired now that there was no longer a threat of a Mitt Romney victory. It also offered a harbinger of the president’s next four years. 

The criticism has irritated the White House, which argued that Mr. Obama held true to principle by forcing Republicans to raise income tax rates on the wealthy and extend unemployment benefits and targeted tax credits. Mr. Obama also quashed Republican demands to trim the growth of entitlement benefits. Aides dismissed armchair criticism from those who have never had to negotiate with intractable opposition. 

“There’s some frustration that over time you would think everybody would have a better understanding of the parameters of this,” said Robert Gibbs, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama who once called such critics “the professional left.” “But he understands now probably better than at any other point in his presidency what it means to be a leader, what it means to have to do things that are good not just for one party but good for the country.” 

The criticism from the left mirrors past complaints when Mr. Obama included tax cuts in his stimulus package, gave up on a government-run option in health care negotiations and temporarily extended Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy two years ago. Liberals said Mr. Obama should have capitalized on his re-election victory and the expiration on New Year’s Day of all of the Bush tax cuts to force Republicans to accept his terms. 

“The president remains clueless about how to use leverage in a negotiation,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy organization. “Republicans publicly admitted they lost the tax debate and would be forced to cave, yet the president just kept giving stuff away.”
Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary, said that Mr. Obama “has stiffened his tactical resolve” but that “he’s still the same President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to compromise on even the most basic principle.” 

Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a Twitter message on Monday that the agreement was “not a good fiscal cliff deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent.” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said on the floor on Monday that “this looks like a very bad deal.” 

Still, most Democratic lawmakers accepted it, however reluctantly, concluding that voting against it could cause greater economic disruption. Many liberals grew more comfortable once they learned more about the deal, and the revolt on Tuesday by House Republicans seemed to rally them behind the plan and against a common adversary. Mr. Trumka released a new statement hailing elements of the deal, while blaming “Republican hostage taking” for its flaws. 

Mr. Obama succeeded in forcing Senate Republicans to raise the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent despite their adamant opposition, although he agreed to apply that to household income above $450,000, instead of $250,000. He also won an increase in taxes on wealthy estates to 40 percent from 35 percent, though it was not as high as liberals wanted. 

The bill will extend unemployment benefits for two million Americans; renew tax credits for child care, college tuition and renewable energy production; raise capital gains taxes; and phase out deductions for the wealthy. Mr. Obama also insisted that a two-month postponement of automatic spending cuts be financed by $1 in tax revenue for every $1 in spending reductions. 

“When the dust settles, there will be a lot of important elements in this for progressives,” Mr. Gibbs said. The deal can be evaluated only in combination with the result of the next fiscal talks, to be concluded by the end of February, he said, adding, “We won’t know the final score on that until you look at both of those negotiations together.” 

Defenders of the White House said it was ludicrous to expect that the president would not have to compromise, given that Republicans control the House and have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster a bill. Without an agreement, economists warned that the country would have been pushed back into recession. 

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said Mr. Obama had secured important victories like the one on unemployment benefits and stood firm against paring entitlement benefits. “The president was strong there,” he told CNN. “And I think he’ll continue to be strong. I think, you know, I notice a different president since he won this election.” 

Jared Bernstein, a former economics adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said Mr. Obama had done what he thought he had to, but he expressed concern that the president might have squandered leverage unless he holds firm in the debate over the debt ceiling. Republicans want to use a vote to raise the ceiling to force Mr. Obama to accept deeper spending cuts, but the president has vowed not to negotiate over the borrowing limit. 

“While some appear to think his team folded in the cliff debate, I don’t see it that way,” Mr. Bernstein said. “They saw a plausible path forward, and they took it. My point is it’s only plausible if they really don’t get derailed on the debt ceiling debate.”