Greg Harris: USA Tomorrow

August 2nd, 2011 Breaking News

In a surprise and even stunning move, President Obama vetoed legislation that reached his desk today that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and the formation of a new commission to identify $1.6 trillion in additional cuts over the next 10 years.

House Speaker John Boehner earned the support of Tea Party members of his caucus and House passage of the legislation because it met their demands for $4 trillion in cuts without new revenue.  The Democrats had originally hoped to close some corporate tax loopholes and end Bush-era income tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  The compromise legislation was worked out between Boehner, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

The bill reaching the president’s desk was seen as the last possible compromise needed to prevent American default on its loans. But was it?  Apparently heeding the advice of former President Bill Clinton, Obama invoked the 14th Amendment of the constitution in insisting the country would continue to pay its bills, and practically dared the GOP to challenge his authority to do so in federal courts.  “If the Republicans want to sue me into forcing America to default on its loans, that is their prerogative.  But I intend to carry out my constitutional authority to authorize the Treasury to pay our bills on time.  What I won’t do is be cornered into supporting legislation that devastates America’s seniors and middle-class.”  One House insider who was part of negotiations commented that by challenging the constitutionality of the debt ceiling deadline by ignoring it, “the President basically took away any and all GOP leverage.”

President Obama, with one stroke of his veto pen, declared that “I will not allow fringe elements of Congress to continue to subsidize corporate loopholes on the backs of our middle class and senior citizens. I will not see Medicare and Social Security and middle class tax breaks compromised so that a billionaire CEO can pay less in taxes than his secretary, or a profitable big corporation can pay less in taxes than a small business.  This legislation revealed Republican true colors, and I had to kill it.  We need to tip the scales back towards a government that serves everyday people.”

In a hastily assembled press conference, an obviously stunned House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) declared “President Obama is willing to send America into default and possibly a constitutional crisis in the name of raising taxes on job creators.”  The political airwaves are abuzz in debate over whether the President’s move was bold or careless.  Emboldened Democratic congressional leadership has indicated they will stand behind the President.

In the coming week, Obama plans to take his case to the American people for a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  According to USA Tomorrow’s latest polls, 56% of Americans support a balanced approach that uses cuts and new revenue to address the deficit; 64% oppose cuts in Medicare and Social Security; 78% oppose ending the home mortgage loan deduction.”

Greg Harris: Obama’s Defining Moment

Historic moments define presidencies.  For President Obama, that moment came in the form of a nation teetering on the brink of depression.

The President responded to the crisis by (while still Senator) supporting TARP and then, as President, spearheading a massive stimulus package.

This stimulus was very much unlike the federal “New Deal” spending that occurred under FDR during the depression, which included a primary focus on creating as many jobs as possible.  Indeed, there are still many monuments to the WPA and related programs standing today (most notably, Hoover Dam, a primary energy source for the Southwest United States).

When you look at a breakdown on how American Recovery Act federal stimulus dollars were spent, you find that a big portion went to tax cuts, while the rest was spread scattershot over many programs.  Much of these funds came in the form of aid to States, which supported essential programs (like Medicaid), but only long enough for States to put off most painful budget cuts until this year.

Today we struggle with a 9.2% unemployment rate, and a continuation of tax policies that redistribute wealth to the very top.  Last December, President Obama arrived at a “compromise” with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush tax code designed to accelerate redistribution of wealth to those who are already very wealthy.  Indeed, Reaganomics followed by W’-nomics have had their intended effect: over the past quarter century four-fifths of income gains have gone to the top 1% of individuals, while middle class wages haven’t kept up with inflation.  Contrary to GOP rhetoric, trickle-down economics has defied gravity.

Many progressives, me included, were hoping last December the President would take the fight to an opposition that would allow all tax cuts expire in the name of keeping income tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  Had no compromise been reached, we would’ve returned to President Clinton’s more progressive tax code, which may well have proven a best case scenario with the added benefit of eradicating much of our deficit problem.  But Obama didn’t take this approach. Rather, the debate was between keeping 98% of Bush’s tax code versus keeping 100% of Bush’s tax code.  Hence, the GOP would’ve “lost” this showdown last December by only getting 98% of what they wanted versus 100%.  Seems to me, they would’ve won either way.  They got their 100% regardless.

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Greg Harris: Obama’s Defining Moment

Greg Harris: Standing My Ground

I didn’t expect at age 39 to already be writing about my political career in past tense.

I grew up with a love of politics, and tended to worship political heroes over, say, sports or movie stars.  My earliest political memory is of Jimmy Carter’s 1980 defeat to Ronald Reagan.  I didn’t understand how such a good, decent and honest man could possibly lose, and wrote him a letter conveying my anguish.  The President and Mrs. Carter responded with a nice letter and a booklet about his presidency.

My first volunteer experience came with Adlai Stevenson III’s run for Governor in 1982.  The Stevenson’s were from my hometown of Bloomington, IL—the same town where Abe Lincoln often practiced law just down the road from his hometown of Springfield.  His father was so honest that he didn’t intervene when the local paper, which his family owned, actually endorsed Eisenhower when he challenged him for president.

The 1982 Governor’s race was a nail biter, with Stevenson losing by the narrowest of margin.  The contest was rife with accusations of vote fraud committed by his incumbent opponent.  For the second time in two years, my man lost.  I certainly experience a lot of political disappointment by age 11!

My knight in shiny armor came in the likeness of a man who donned thick horned-rimmed glasses, big ears and a bowtie.  Paul Simon was kind of a paradoxical figure, his nerdy likeness met by a commanding baritone voice; a leading thinker in the Senate who was also a college drop out.  I read several books he authored, and probably attended a half dozen of his frequent town meetings conducted throughout the state.  Senator Simon showed me that the “good guys” can prevail in the end.  Moreover, he was a liberal Democrat who won a good deal of Republican votes, indicating to me that folks are capable of voting for someone they disagree with if they trust his integrity and motives.

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Greg Harris: Standing My Ground

Greg Harris: My Father Who Made Me Feel Like a Winner

I idolized my father growing up.  I used to take friends up to his study to show them pictures from his old almanacs of his playing days in high school and college sports and brag about his athleticism.  I bragged about him a lot as a kid, and still try to emulate him as an adult.

My dad took his profession very seriously, and it was really mom who played the more “hands-on” role growing up.  Dad’s paternal example, my grandfather, was a tough Texas railroad man who was often on the road.  In that generation, parents didn’t exactly “play” with their kids.  My dad carried that tradition (albeit to a lesser extent). Indeed, I remember many days he’d come home from work for dinner, only to return to work after dinner. 

But this was hardly a Harry Chapinesque “Cats in the Cradle” scenario—indeed, I always felt my dad was there for me and enjoyed me as a son.  As busy as he was, I also never took for granted our bonding times—going to the local college’s basketball games (for which we had season tickets), the occasional Cubs game, the 20 hour drives to Texas to visit our kin, and the boxing.  He taught me “the science of boxing,” and in my pre-teens we’d have periodic boxing matches in our family room when he’d don the gloves he brought me, sit at the end of the couch and let me come at him full speed while he’d lob soft “punches” in return.  When I bobbed, weaved and got in a good punch, he’d fall backwards and feign like I knocked him out. 

Strangely enough, my father became a far more hands-on parent in my adulthood.  When I first ran for political office in 2002, my dad would literally commute from my South-of-Chicago hometown to Cincinnati every week to help with my congressional campaign.  I was an unknown non-profit director at the time running against a very powerful incumbent.  I got my butt kicked, but the consolation prize was the incredible “everyday” time I had with my father driving to church festivals and other campaign events.  Many in Cincinnati’s political circles came to know my dad as a fixture on the campaign trail.  Indeed in 2004, when I ran for congress a second time, my dad repeated the same ritual . . . commuting several hours each week to help out.  By then, most politicos knew him, and it was more like a homecoming.  That was a fun, spirited campaign in an intense presidential election year.  But I was still very much the underdog, and when you are an underdog you often find yourself working like mad to win a race that no one thinks you can win, and often are met with ridicule by patronizing reporters and dismissive campaign donors that seem to take you less seriously for even trying.  In those trying circumstances, having love and unconditional support in your corner is a God-send. 

It was a bit off seeing a father who I looked up to my entire life undertake the role of a humble campaign worker . . . helping me with candidate surveys, marching in parades, handing out collateral at festivals . . . event after event.  I remember vividly the day we were sitting side by side at computers in the campaign office when he suddenly announced “Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.”  (I am a graduate of Camp Wellstone, the late senator’s campaign organizing school.)  I never got to win an election and taste victory with my father, which is one of my deep regrets, although I know he is no less proud of me.

I now have two sons, and so grateful they have the chance to interact with and get to know my father.  He’s their “poppa.”  He taught my 8-year old son Nathan last summer how to throw a spiral, and starred on stage for a community production of a Christmas Carol, which was my son’s first play. 

I was blessed with two exceptional parents, but today is the day I pay tribute to my father.  I firmly believe that every day I go about my work with conviction and integrity and stay true to my values is a day I’m befitting of his example.  Next month I will turn 40, and very much hope that when my young sons are my age, they look back at me with a similar reverence for their old man. 

My parents are the reason I have the courage to do what’s right, and have made this recovering politician feel like a winner even in defeat.

Greg’s Video Flashback (2004)