The Public Wisely Doesn’t Expect Much From Congress

Partisans Expect Little Cooperation From the Other SideRepublicans are set to officially take full control of Congress this week and the public doesn’t expect to see very much bipartisan legislation to emerge as a result.

According to a new Pew Research poll, while a decent share of the public thinks President Obama will try to cooperate with Republicans this year, they overwhelmingly believe Congress Republicans are not going to be willing to work with Obama.

The poll found an incredible 70 percent of American Republicans Congressional leaders will do “not much” or nothing to try to cooperate with Obama.

The “good news” for Obama is that it will be easy for him to continue to look like the more reasonable and open minded leader. Of course there is no real indication that carries any real benefits. For the past two years Obama was consistently seen as the more compromising and reasonable player in Washington by voters and his party still suffered a historically bad mid-term defeat.

The “good news” for Republicans is that the public expectations for Congress over the next two years are incredibly low. Living up to or even exceeding such low expectations should theoretically be very easy.

Public Thinks Their Top Problem is Their Government

The public thinks the number one problem facing the country last year was their dysfunctional government, according to Gallup. From Gallup:

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It is not too surprising a result, given that in the past few years we have seen almost no laws of any significance approved, a prolonged government shutdown and the threat of a default on our national debt.

Effectively almost all of these big problems have been caused by having a divided government and the Republican party realizing that it’s to their political benefit to NOT work with President Obama.

If the public is really sick of the gridlock we need to seriously look at changing our election/governing rules so they no longer strongly encourage gridlock. Other democracies don’t have these specific problems (they have their own unique issues) because their rules don’t allow for divided government.

DC’s New Attorney General Says Congress Didn’t Stop Marijuana Initiative

Karl Racine, who starting next month will be D.C.’s first elected attorney general, believes the recently approved marijuana legalization initiative can move forward. He told the Washington Post:

“We think Initiative 71 was basically self-enacted, just as the congresswoman does,” Racine said. “And we think there’s good support for that position, and we’re going to support that position.”

At issue is an attempt by congressional Republicans to stop the measure approved overwhelmingly by DC voters. While the 650,000 residents of D.C. have no voting representation in Congress, Congress has the ability to override any local D.C. law.

House Republicans abused this power by adding a rider to the recent omnibus funding law that prevents D.C. from spending any money to “enact” new laws regarding schedule I drugs. However, the exact language they used is very important. The major political leaders in D.C. are claiming the initiative was technically “enacted” when it was approved by voters in November, so funds would only be spent to “implement” it. This means it can move forward without violating the new federal law.

How exactly to define the term “enact” when it comes to the process of adopting new laws in D.C. is not a simple legal question, but if the D.C. Council, the new D.C. Attorney General, and potentially the Obama administration all adopt this same definition it would be very difficult for House Republicans to get the courts to stop it.

DC’s New Attorney General Says Congress Didn’t Stop Marijuana Initiative

Karl Racine, who starting next month will be D.C.’s first elected attorney general, believes the recently approved marijuana legalization initiative can move forward. He told the Washington Post:

“We think Initiative 71 was basically self-enacted, just as the congresswoman does,” Racine said. “And we think there’s good support for that position, and we’re going to support that position.”

At issue is an attempt by congressional Republicans to stop the measure approved overwhelmingly by DC voters. While the 650,000 residents of D.C. have no voting representation in Congress, Congress has the ability to override any local D.C. law.

House Republicans abused this power by adding a rider to the recent omnibus funding law that prevents D.C. from spending any money to “enact” new laws regarding schedule I drugs. However, the exact language they used is very important. The major political leaders in D.C.  are claiming the initiative was technically “enacted” when it was approved by voters in November, so funds would only be spent to “implement” it. This means it can move forward without violating the new federal law.

How exactly to define the term “enact” when it comes to the process of adopting new laws in D.C. is not a simple legal question, but if the D.C. Council, the new D.C. Attorney General, and potentially the Obama administration all adopt this same definition it would be very difficult for House Republicans to get the courts to stop it.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy, on sale for just $0.99

 

Sky Stubbornly Refuses to Fall in Colorado

I’ve spent every Christmas for the past decade in Colorado with my grandparents, and this year I noticed it was still the same beautiful state it has always been, even though recreational marijuana has now legally been for sale for a full year. The closest thing to the sky falling was a holiday snow storm, giving us a wonderful white Christmas.

Besides seeing a few adult-use marijuana stores, which were mostly tucked away in basement locations, Colorado seemed basically the same as it has in years past. It hadn’t become a lawless wasteland or a place overrun with drugged out zombies. It was effectively the same great state, except now the small segment of adults who choose to consume marijuana have some regulated stores where they can legally buy it and pay taxes on it.

When I asked my grandparents about legal marijuana, they told me it has had basically zero impact on their lives. This is probably why a recent SurveyUSA poll found that if Amendment 64 was put back on the ballot the residents of Colorado would vote for it again.

Elsewhere in the country our states are still spending billions of dollars arresting hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana to effectively prevent their states from being more like Colorado, yet things are going very well in Colorado. In fact, Americans are voting with their feet for Colorado. It currently is the fourth fastest-growing state in the country.

Photo of mountains in Colorado by Jon Walker

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy, on sale for just $0.99

Accomplishing Popular Things is Popular

Since the midterm election President Obama has really been flexing his executive authority. In just the past month he has done two big actions to accomplish popular goals and it has paid off.

The first was his move on immigration. While the public would prefer the issue wasn’t handled via executive action, the public overwhelmingly agrees with its basic goals.

This second was Obama bring an end to our decades long failed strategy towards Cuba. This move has truly broad support among almost everyone in the country. By a two-to-one margin the public supports establishing diplomatic relations with the island nation.

Following this actions Obama’s job approval rating is now the best it has been in over a year according to CNN. Their latest poll found 48 percent approve of his job performance while 50 percent disapprove.

Accomplishing popular things is popular. It makes the person who accomplishes them more popular. Most of the public don’t care about process or excuses about make believe rules in the Senate. The majority of the country doesn’t closely follow the latest congressional fight to carefully assign blame based on who appears most responsible. They want results and things that improve their lives.

It is very simple but much of the political class has trouble accepting it is so simple. They often get too focused on DC bubble concerns about tradition or winning the pundits that almost no one outside the bubble cares about.

Public Strongly Supports Opening Relations with Cuba

President Obama’s recent decision to change course on Cuba has garnered overwhelming support from the general public. By roughly a two-to-one margin, the country supports establishing diplomatic relations, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

It found that 64 percent of Americans back opening diplomatic relations with the nation. In addition 68 percent would back ending the trade embargo with Cuba so American companies could start doing business there, and an incredible 74 percent support ending the travel restrictions to allow Americans to visit the island. Only 24 percent of Americans oppose ending travel restrictions.

The only group where a clear majority opposes opening diplomatic relations is conservative Republicans. Only 38 percent of conservative Republicans back this change, while 60 percent oppose it.

This means potential Presidential candidates, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL,) might be helping themselves in the Republican primary by so publicly criticizing Obama’s recent move, but at the expense of hurting the ability to win the general election. Trying to win the primary without alienating the general public was a real problem for Republicans in 2012 and could be again in 2016.

Public’s Big New Focus on Race Relations

The protests over Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner have worked. The public’s awareness and concerns about police practices, racial relations and the racial disparity in arrests has increased dramatically over the past month. It is now seen as one of the top problems facing the country. From Gallup:

Recent Trends in Top Four Most Important U.S. Problems

Increased public concern about an issue doesn’t inherently mean significant positive policy change will happen, but public awareness is almost always a necessary precondition for real reform. Protests can draw the nation’s attention as they have recently on this issue.

Already the increased national focus has caused some positive movement. More police departments are experimenting with body cameras, Congress has again required police to keep records of deaths of people under arrest, and more places are looking to scale back the drug war.

Why Act Now on Cuba

It is no accident that President Obama announced his decision to move forward with normalizing relations with Cuba yesterday. Four big factors made this the ideal moment.

1) Being a lame duck has its advantages – President Obama will never face an election again nor need to worry about how Congressional Democrats will do under his term. This means Obama doesn’t need to care what people think.

2) Congress just left on a long vacation – Maintaining outrage over the long term is difficult in Washington. There are always new issues and emergencies to dominate the news cycle. By the time Congress gets back in town next year I suspect Cuba will have already slipped from the front page. The new Congress will have a long list of other priorities they want to get to.

3) There is almost nothing Congress can do since they just approved a nine month funding bill – I strongly suspect this deal is why President Obama was so aggressive working to get the long term government funding bill. Basically, the only real leverage Republicans have over Obama is with must pass legislation. It will be nine months until Congress needs to approve another one and by that time this will be very old news.

4) The politics now favor ending the embargo – Probably the biggest factor is that the politics around the issue finally changed in favor of ending the embargo in the past year. Our idiotic electoral college has long given Cuban-Americans living in Florida a disparately important role in our national politics. This year was the first time a small majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida actually favored ending the embargo.

While this move by Obama was good policy it actually wasn’t all that politically courageous. It happened only after the general public and this important voting bloc in a critical swing state were ready to support it. This will make it difficult for Republicans to try to undo it.

Voters Are Tired of Obama’s Governing Approach

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has one very good number for Republicans. It found that an incredible 71 percent of voters want the next president to use a different approach for governing than President Obama.

For the Republican party it is easy to cater to this disenchantment with Obama’s governing style. As the opposition party they are inherently different from Obama. Any Republican candidate for President is going to easily and frequently remind voters how they will do things differently than the current resident in the White House.

For Democrats this presents a very tough challenge. They need to start distancing themselves from Obama. They need to start pointing out the flaws in his legislative strategy and executive action. They need to start offering a serious critique of Obama’s mistakes, but they need to do that without upsetting the core group of voters that still supports Obama. That is not going to be easy given how aggressive the Obama team has been at discouraging any left wing criticism of Obama.

It is a very difficult needle to thread, which is why it is rare for one party to win the Presidency three elections in a row. The earlier Democrats start the process, though, the easier it is to execute properly.