Monday, January 6, 2014

Let's Try This Again

Between the insanely cold weather, and the unusually long holiday break, we know we're not the only ones struggling to get back to the normal grind today. We'd be willing to bet more than a few members of Congress don't make it back to Capitol Hill today - though we'd also bet that's not just because of the weather.

As 2014 begins, Congress is also returning to a mountain of work they never finished in 2013. From the 'Farm and Food' bill they never passed, to the immigration reform legislation still languishing in the Republican-controlled House, to the new Fed Chairwoman, the list of priorities waiting to be taken care of by Congress would barely fit on a thousand-sheet roll of toilet paper. In short, the legislative blockage caused by Republican extremists in Congress is still causing a massive mess.

Thankfully, President Obama seems ready to re-launch his second term, with a full 2014 agenda - even if he is still facing the mess Republicans in Congress created, but won't touch.

One of the first items President Obama wants to focus on this year - and really for the remainder of his second term - is one he tackled in one of his last addresses in 2013: economic inequality. Thankfully, Democrats in Congress, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, seem to be in step with the President on this issue.

Senator Reid has already stated that extending long-term unemployment insurance for more than a million Americans is the first item on the Senate's agenda today, their first day back to work this year. As Greg Sargent noted on Friday, if it were up to Reid, he'd even expand the unemployment insurance program.

Democrats also appear to be ready to support President Obama's push to increase the minimum wage this year. Since legitimate economists across the board seem to agree that raising the minimum wage reduces poverty, logic and reason would point in the direction of success on that effort.

Of course, extremist Republicans are rarely impressed by either logic or reason.

The perfect example of that kind of bull-headed ignorance seems to be Wisconsin Republican state Senator Glenn Grothman. Grothman, in a state now held political hostage by extremist Republicans, is attempting to roll back a progressive state law that protects workers, by requiring their employer to give them one day off in each seven-day calendar week - a variation on the '40-hour work week' won by labor groups and workers' rights groups, and enshrined in the New Deal nearly 80 years ago.

Even though more than a century of research has confirmed that overly long hours actually hurt businesses, workers, and productivity, Republicans like Grothman are pushing the idea that workers should have the "freedom" to work seven days a week if they so choose - ignoring the fact that today, because of America's massive income inequality, many Americans already work seven days a week at multiple jobs because they have no other choice.

Meanwhile, there are still three Americans for every one available job. For those long-term unemployed Americans who still can't find work after searching for months, thanks to Republicans in Congress, this new year is already starting off bitterly cold - economically speaking - regardless of what the weather is like outside.

Unlike five years ago, when President Obama began his first term, he hasn't been handed an economy in ruins this January. In fact, the economy is beginning to grow more strongly and U.S. factories are even hitting a growth stride. Jobless claims continue to fall and, even though many Republicans refuse to believe the deficit has been cut in half under President Obama, the facts simply don't lie.

Add to all of that the growing success of the Affordable Care Act, and the obvious growing desperation of Republicans in the House (who will be voting against Obamacare today - yet again), and 2014 really could be the year President Obama gets to clean things up in DC a bit more.

Hopefully, Americans who want to see their country thrive will turn out at the polls this fall, and help him clean up the mess.