Category Archives: Pro-con

Pro-con: Does Sebelius leave a positive legacy?

sebeliuslaughingImplementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. And Kathleen Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies. More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of the early problems. Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. Any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters. – Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic

It’s been quite a year for the former Kansas governor. October brought the failed launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which Sebelius initially characterized as simply the result of surging consumer demand for Obamacare and a “great problem to have.” December brought more embarrassing news as Sebelius waived the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance by categorizing Obamacare itself as a hardship worthy of exemption. This was just one of many on-the-fly rewrites the administration claimed the authority to make under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Though she is leaving now, her legacy is secure, as her name adorns several of the most consequential federal cases resulting from the law. Her resignation doesn’t change the fact that Democrats will remain politically accountable for a law sold on a fraudulent promise from President Obama. But this latest news does mean that not even the secretary of health and human services will get to keep her insurance plan. – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal

Pro-con on Kansas-Arizona voter-registration ruling

votingaug12In a big victory for election integrity, Arizona and Kansas – led by their secretaries of state, Ken Bennett and Kris Kobach – have obtained an order from a federal judge allowing them to enforce their proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration. In a decision issued on March 19, Judge Eric Melgren of the federal district court of Kansas found that the refusal of federal election authorities to add state-specific instructions to the federal voter-registration form notifying residents of Arizona and Kansas that they have to provide proof that they are U.S. citizens to complete their registration is “unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority.” This is a huge loss for the Obama administration, as well as liberal advocacy groups that apparently want to make it easy for noncitizens to illegally register and vote in our elections. There is no question that is happening – there have been numerous cases all over the country. This decision should provide momentum to other states seeking to pass a similar requirement. For anyone interested in ensuring the integrity of our election process, this was a commonsense decision. – Hans A. von Spakovsky, National Review

Republican lawmakers who work to impose higher bars to voting – either through proof-of-citizenship or voter ID laws – are well aware that many of those otherwise-eligible voters who struggle to come up with the required documents, which include a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license, are more likely to vote Democratic. In recent months, it seemed that judges were beginning to see through the pretense of such laws, whose proponents insist they are necessary to protect “election integrity” despite the lack of any significant evidence that voter fraud of any kind exists. Nevertheless, Judge Melgren accepted at face value the claim by Kansas and Arizona that only “concrete proof of citizenship” can allow them to determine whether a voter is eligible. Republican-controlled state legislatures could respond to their aging, shrinking voter base by appealing to a wider range of voters. Instead, they write off entire segments of the public and then try to keep them from the polls, under the guise of battling fraud and illegal immigration. The courts have more than enough evidence by now, and they should see this ruse for what it is. – New York Times

Pro-con: Was Reid justified in attacking the Kochs?

kochsBy far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races has been that of the Koch brothers (in photos), who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections. Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal – no party should – but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs. The leader of this effort has been Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. A recent speech pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. – New York Times

An abhorrent floor speech by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., revealed such a twisted conception of both the First Amendment and the facts that all Americans, whatever their political persuasion, should be repulsed. Mr. Reid singled out billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, who express their libertarian conservatism through political donations. He called the Koch brothers’ political involvement “un-American,” accused them of trying to undermine “democracy” and even claimed that Koch Industries subsidiaries do business with Iran, which their company quickly denied. Reid apparently thinks the First Amendment, which protects free political expression for all Americans, shouldn’t apply to the Kochs. Yet he said nothing about leftist unions that spend more on politics than they do. A Center for Public Integrity study found unions and other Democrat-friendly groups outspent the Kochs on 2012’s state-level elections. Such political expression is quintessentially American. What Reid wants – free speech only for him, his liberal colleagues and the unions and other leftist groups that pull their political strings – would be truly un-American. And if money’s the issue, the left has far more to answer for. – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pro-con: Did Kansas need religious liberty bill?

Iowa Gay Marriage RallyWill the state force a florist, a caterer, a photographer or a baker – to name only a handful – to provide goods and services to anyone, contrary to their own consciences and religious beliefs? Kansas legislators attempted to answer that question in the negative, and they were right to do so. Some ill-informed commentators have compared what’s happening in Kansas to the old Jim Crow laws that marred the South for much of the 20th century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They forget that Jim Crow forced businesses to discriminate and segregate by race. The Kansas bill, by contrast, would do nothing more than free private citizens from legal consequences if they choose not to do business associated with same-sex marriage. Compulsion versus choice: See the difference? Kansas lawmakers fought a valiant but doomed effort to preserve a shred of liberty rightly understood – liberty of conscience, liberty of contract, liberty of property, liberty of association. The courts and the culture have shifted. We have very few of those old liberties left. But, oh, goodness, do we have coercion galore. – Ben Boychuk, City Journal

Most Kansans hate Fred Phelps, the notorious anti-gay preacher. But if a “religious freedom” bill passes the Legislature in any form similar to the one that won approval in the Kansas House, well, Kansas will be tied more tightly to the Phelps legacy than ever before. You don’t have to shout “God hates fags” at the top of your lungs to put Phelps’ philosophy into action. And the only reason the bill exists is hysteria. Yes, in Colorado, a gay couple sued a cake maker who refused his services for their wedding. But unlike Colorado, Kansas has no legal protections for gays and lesbians. They have no legal standing to sue anybody for any reason connected to their sexuality. So a bill protecting Christians from gay lawsuits accomplishes almost nothing except to whip up emotions on all sides of the issue. Except this: It sends a signal, loud and clear, to Kansans and the rest of the world, that there is one group – and one group only – that the state gives explicit permission to discriminate against: gay and lesbian Kansans. That’s a breathtaking achievement. And it is wrong. – Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine

Pro-con: Is Obama overreaching on executive orders?

Inaugural Swearing InFact is, U.S. presidents do have vast powers under Article II of the Constitution, especially when it comes to waging war and protecting national security. But “vast” isn’t the same as “unlimited.” Too many presidents – Republican and Democrat – have stretched the interpretation of their powers to the limit, and sometimes beyond. In that sense, President Obama is no different from past presidents. But in crucial ways, he has used and abused his powers in ways his predecessors could only fantasize about. Unilaterally raising the federal minimum wage for government contractors may have Republicans in Congress pulling their hair out, but that’s among the least of this president’s usurpations of their lawmaking authority. Committing American airpower in 2011 to help overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi without so much as consulting Congress was a milestone in presidential overreach. Obama decided in 2012 that Congress wasn’t doing enough to reform U.S. immigration laws, so he signed an executive order barring the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service from deporting minors and relatives of U.S. service members living in the United States illegally. When the president decided to delay his health care law’s “employer mandate,” he engaged in nothing less than wholesale lawlessness. Congress has for too long delegated far too much of its power to the executive branch. It’s past time the legislative branch used its authority to hold this president to account. – Ben Boychuk, City Journal

Two words: “Unitary executive.” You might not remember those words – Republicans in Congress certainly don’t seem to. They were the name of a theory, advocated by Dick Cheney in particular, under which the George W. Bush administration unilaterally chose to ignore Congress and its legal obligations, pretty much whenever it chose. A law against warrantless wiretapping? Ignore it. Treaties against torture? Ignore them. Don’t like the new law Congress passed? Don’t veto it – sign it, but add a “signing statement” explaining why you won’t actually obey it. All of this happened with the near-total acquiescence of congressional Republicans throughout the Bush administration. Much as it did its love of fiscal austerity and the filibuster, the GOP rediscovered its fidelity to the rule of law with alacrity in 2009, when President Obama took office. It’s clear what’s going on here: Republicans don’t believe in a constrained, limited presidency. They believe in constraining and limiting Democrats. It’s not the same thing, and observers can be forgiven for rolling their eyes at the crocodile tears of self-styled defenders of the Constitution. If Republicans want to limit the presidency, let them prove it when one of their own is in the White House. – Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine

Pro-con: Was change to filibuster rules justified?

courtgavelFor five years, Senate Republicans have refused to allow confirmation votes on dozens of perfectly qualified candidates nominated by President Obama for government positions. They tried to nullify entire federal agencies by denying them leaders. They abused Senate rules past the point of tolerance or responsibility. And so they were left enraged and threatening revenge on Thursday when a majority did the only logical thing and stripped away their power to block the president’s nominees. From now on, if any senator tries to filibuster a presidential nominee, that filibuster can be stopped with a simple majority, not the 60-vote requirement of the past. That means a return to the democratic process of giving nominees an up-or-down vote, allowing them to be either confirmed or rejected by a simple majority. The vote was long overdue and necessary to turn the Senate back into a functioning legislative body. – New York Times

The rewriting of filibuster rules by Senate Democrats changed the legislative body in fundamental ways, and for the worse. Republicans whose unjustified recalcitrance provoked the change should be ashamed. Democrats who are celebrating will soon enough regret their decision. The radical action, a product of poisonous partisanship, will also be an accelerant of poisonous partisanship. We believe a filibuster should be rarely invoked. But now that it is not an option, the result is likely to be that the partisanship of Congress will seep increasingly into the judiciary, as presidents feel no obligation to search for balance or moderation in their nominations. The Democratic action also sets a precedent that a future Republican majority will use to change procedures when it gets into a political jam, rather than negotiate with Democrats. The logical outcome is a Senate operating more like the House, with no rights for the minority, no reason for debate and no incentive to cooperate. – Washington Post

Pro-con: Did Sebelius do well at House hearing?

Like the Scarecrow, whoever came up with House Republicans’ plan to deal with Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday didn’t have a brain. The Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee went after Sebelius like so many flying monkeys. But – spoiler alert! – the “Wizard of Oz” film doesn’t turn out well for Dorothy’s persecutors, and the hearing, likewise, didn’t turn out to be the humiliation for Sebelius that Republicans had in mind. Dorothy melted the Wicked Witch with a bucket of water; Sebelius doused her questioners with an unexpected and extended confession of responsibility. This was a sneaky and dastardly thing for her to do: sneaky, because it wasn’t in the advance testimony she gave the committee, and dastardly, because in today’s Washington, D.C., any acceptance of responsibility is so rare that the Republicans – who were counting on her evading and deflecting – were bound to be caught off guard. – Dana Milbank, Washington Post

In the semi-disastrous testimony of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – with such doozies on HealthCare.gov as, “The website never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability,” with a split scene of the site down – there was more than a new batch of gotcha moments for the Republicans to gloat about. There is a fundamental assumption critical to not only Obamacare, but also to the liberal welfare state more generally, namely that it requires a sophisticated and competent bureaucracy. In its collapse and in the testimony of Sebelius, we saw that this assumption may simply be wrong. Forget ideology for a moment. If the liberal welfare state can’t run its own creations, it is not sustainable. This was the sort of hearing that Republicans would not have had the nerve to imagine. In a few short hours, Sebelius, now the face of Obamacare just as much as the president, portrayed just about every quality people hate about big government – incompetent, coldhearted, blame-casting, uninformed and unrealistic. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be the star of many 2014 GOP ads. – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Pro-con: Should Kathleen Sebelius be fired?

Every day brings new stories of the Obamacare site’s near-complete unworkability, while the Obama administration responds with fantastic don’t-be-concerned counterclaims. Huge problems are downplayed, and brazen promises are made that the behemoth program’s complex and convoluted software will be quickly and easily fixed. Baloney. Most Americans, especially those most in need of health care right now, don’t believe the excuses and promises. They never believed in Obamacare. And now they know it isn’t working. Any corporate executive charged with launching a product that flopped this spectacularly would be held accountable and fired. That’s exactly what has to happen to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She has to go. Now. Join us in calling for the president to hold Sebelius accountable for her gross incompetence and her misspending of taxpayers’ billions. – National Review

Just as the healthcare.gov website is not the Affordable Care Act, so ending Sebelius’ tenure at HHS is not the same thing as fixing the problems. And while it’s tempting perhaps even for Democrats to agree that new blood at HHS can only help, there are two things you need to keep in mind: Republicans are in no way interested in actually fixing healthcare.gov or replacing Sebelius. As the announcement of Rand Paul’s “hold” on the nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve should remind you, the more likely strategy here is that Republicans will attempt to block the nomination of any replacement at HHS. That keeps the agency leaderless at a critical moment, and prolongs the exploitable life span of the website issue. No, collecting Sebelius’ scalp won’t make the website work right. But it will give Republicans a chance to try to cripple HHS – and who knows how many of its programs that might require secretary-level reports, approvals and other determinations – causing even more disruptions, which they can then attack as “failures” of the Obama administration. – David Waldman, Daily Kos

Pro-con: Are Republicans to blame for shutdown?

Americans’ respect for their Congress has, sad to say, diminished in recent years. But citizens still expect a minimal level of competence and responsibility: Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world. By those minimal standards, this Congress is failing. More specifically, the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will. Republicans have shut much of the government in what they had to know was a doomed effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. They tried to block its passage and failed; they hoped to have it declared unconstitutional and failed; and they did their best to toss Obama out of the White House after one term in order to strangle it in its cradle, and they failed again. They’re entitled to keep trying, of course. But their methods now are beyond the pale. – Washington Post

Regardless of how we got here, the shutdown of 2013 is upon us. Republicans should not blink now. Using the budget to try to stop an unpopular, destructive, disorganized, partisan law is no vice. Yes, it would be preferable not to be in this position. But there is still an important point to be made and some good that can be done. Even though Democrats and the mainstream media would have people believe that the shutdown was caused by Republicans’ anarchic insanity or psychotic compulsion, Republicans stand ready to fund 99 percent of the government. They also have reasonably offered to negotiate the future of the train wreck that is Obamacare. Republicans can’t change every mind, but they don’t have to. GOP leaders need to show themselves to be patient, thoughtful advocates of their position. More voters appreciate what is really happening than the talking heads inside the beltway would have us believe. – Ed Rogers, the Insiders blog

Pro-con: Was same-sex marriage ruling the right decision?

Wednesday saw a triumph in the continuing struggle for equality in America. A divided Supreme Court rolled back two discriminatory laws, California’s Proposition 8 and a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Though not a total victory for those who believe gay and lesbian couples everywhere should be able to marry, the decisions nonetheless built upon and extended what has been a momentous half year for gay rights. Until the justices rule more forcefully, same-sex marriage advocates must look beyond the courts for action and toward democratic legitimacy. If Californians voted again on same-sex marriage, polls show that what was a close call in 2008 would be an easy win today. The court’s rulings Wednesday were welcome, but in essence they only affirmed how quickly the nation has moved away from prejudice and toward essential respect for all Americans. – Washington Post

It was outrageous for the Supreme Court to invalidate Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and allow the potential invalidation of California’s Proposition 8, a law passed with the support of more than 7 million voters. Although Wednesday was a sad day for democracy and for marriage, this is not the end of the battle. The vast majority of states recognize marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman. Only 13 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex “marriage,” and nothing the Supreme Court just did changes that fact. If anything, the court’s opinion in United States v. Windsor, the DOMA case, shows that the federal government must respect the decision of states to define marriage as they choose. – Brian S. Brown, National Organization for Marriage

Pro-con: Is Edward Snowden a hero?

Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old National Security Agency whistle-blower, is a hero. In revealing the colossal scale of the U.S. government’s eavesdropping on Americans and other people around the world, he has performed a great public service that more than outweighs any breach of trust he may have committed. Like Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who released the Pentagon Papers, and Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who revealed the existence of Israel’s weapons program, before him, Snowden has brought to light important information that deserved to be in the public domain, while doing no lasting harm to the national security of his country. Snowden uncovered questionable activities that those in power would rather have kept secret. That’s the valuable role that whistle-blowers play in a free society, and it’s one that, in each individual case, should be weighed against the potential harm their revelations can cause. In some instances, conceivably, the interests of the state should prevail. Here, though, the scales are clearly tipped in Snowden’s favor. – John Cassidy, New Yorker

Edward Snowden is neither a hero nor a whistle-blower. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison. Snowden wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done. The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air – and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. – Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker

Pro-con: Does U.S. need increased tax revenue?

America’s economy is poised to roar ahead if only Washington would stop holding it back. Ever since the Great Recession officially ended, the private sector has been adding jobs. What’s kept the economy in low gear and the unemployment rate stubbornly high has been the shrinking of government workforces: cops, teachers and other valuable public employees let go in the face of inadequate tax revenue. What fiscal policy should Washington adopt to boost our economy rather than drag it down? The first thing is to acknowledge that our current debt-reduction efforts can’t be primarily focused on spending reductions. We can’t cut our way out of debt, especially if we want to support our economy at the same time. We need a balanced approach of thoughtful spending curbs and increased revenue. If we don’t want to go deeper in debt, we need sufficient tax revenue from those best able to supply it to support job-creating federal investment in our still-struggling economy. – William Rice, Americans for Democratic Action

Even though economic growth is what we badly need to hasten our recovery, many of our leaders in Washington are hungry for even more tax revenue. Some still champion a big-government agenda that requires greater resources to implement more programs. But a heavy tax burden means consumers have less of their income to spend in the economy and businesses have less for hiring, expansion and investment. So when taxes go up, the rate of economic growth goes down. In order to keep our economy humming and put the government back on sound fiscal footing, we must undertake comprehensive tax reform and exercise real spending restraint through fundamental entitlement reform. Comprehensive tax reform should broaden the tax base so more people are paying into the system and simplify compliance for all business entities. It is the responsibility of the business community to keep the pressure on. Let’s remind Congress and the administration that, when families and employers fall on hard financial times, they must make tough decisions. It’s time for Washington to follow suit. – Martin A. Regalia, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Pro-con: Should U.S. boost energy exploration?

Can increasing American energy exploration improve our economy? Yes, but more to the point, it’s already happening. Energy – and the jobs and growth it will drive – is the foundation for our economic recovery. Our nation is blessed with some of the most abundant energy resources on Earth. Thanks in large part to the technology-driven shale boom, we have enough natural gas to power America for 120 years. We also have at least 200 years of oil under our lands and off our shores and more than 250 years of coal. And that’s just what we can recover with today’s technology. With continued advancements, we will be able to access even greater domestic supplies in the future. Energy presents the biggest opportunity to build a stronger foundation and a brighter future for our country. The 21st century has brought America an era of energy abundance. Let’s make the most of it for the sake of our economy, competitiveness and national security. – Karen A. Harbert, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Abandoning fossil-fuel exploration altogether is not feasible for America. But significant further government support of oil and gas drilling in places like the Alaskan wilderness or the American heartland in the name of economic growth would be a huge mistake. Instead, for our national security, economic growth and a sound energy policy, what we need is to shift to promoting industries and technologies that focus on clean, renewable and alternative sources of energy. Clean-tech is a fast-growing global industry that holds the potential to fix our current climate and other environmental challenges and build the jobs of tomorrow. The 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the serious concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing have not merely been the results of chance. Nor are the extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, which are expected to rise in frequency and severity with fossil fuel use-linked climate change. The U.S. cannot afford to invest and lock itself into many more decades of reliance on the dirty and unsustainable sources of energy of the past. – Tseming Yang, Santa Clara University

Pro-con: Was Paul right to filibuster on drones?

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., got a lot of attention Wednesday for mounting an honest-to-God filibuster of President Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan. The nation’s political class marveled at his real-life Mr. Smith act. But it’s worth taking a moment to consider the substance of Paul’s objection. The libertarian and son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul has plenty of views that are far outside the mainstream, but in this case he zeroed in on an issue all Americans should find uncomfortable: Would it be legal for the U.S. government to use a drone strike to kill an American citizen on American soil? In the end, the Obama administration felt compelled to respond, and Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder sent Paul a letter assuring him that the president does not “have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” That was good enough for Paul to drop his objection to Brennan’s nomination, which was approved by the Senate, but it still leaves open plenty of questions about the use of drones. – Baltimore Sun

Give Rand Paul credit for theatrical timing. As a snowstorm descended on Washington, D.C., the Kentucky Republican’s old-fashioned filibuster Wednesday filled the attention void on Twitter and cable TV. If only his reasoning matched the showmanship. The U.S. government cannot randomly target American citizens on U.S. soil or anywhere else. What it can do under the laws of war is target an “enemy combatant” anywhere at anytime, including on U.S. soil. This includes a U.S. citizen who is also an enemy combatant. The country needs more senators who care about liberty, but if Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he’s talking about. – Wall Street Journal

Pro-con: Should U.S. raise minimum wage?

Little evidence exists to suggest that modest increases in the minimum wage lead to job losses, so the battle ahead in Congress is really one between free-market orthodoxy and basic human decency. We would invest our money in decency. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called upon Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015, up from the current $7.25. The wage would rise in steps and after hitting the maximum in two years would thereafter be indexed to inflation. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage in the late 1960s was about $10 per hour, and it was even higher in the 1980s. President Obama’s call to raise it to $9 is far from excessive. The state of Washington is already higher. Conservatives may argue that the market should set wages, but they argued the feds should let GM fail, too. Working people need a raise. Congress should give them one. – Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

At a time when the U.S. economic recovery has slowed to a standstill, President Obama’s State of the Union speech seemed to come from an alternate universe as he prescribed more tax hikes and costly federal regulations. His call for a 24 percent increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour would be especially damaging. Hiking the minimum wage discriminates against entry-level workers. The higher it goes, the minimum wage not only raises business costs and reduces the number of available jobs, but also biases the labor force toward workers who already have work experience – or just eliminates jobs altogether. You only need to go back to the last minimum -age hike to see its negative effects. In 2007, Congress passed an ill-timed minimum-wage bump – a two-year, 40 percent, phased-in increase from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009. The result was a plunge in working youths. To protect entry-level jobs and priceless working experience, Congress should hold off on any new wage increases. – Detroit News

Pro-con: Did Obama’s speech offer positive path?

Americans who have become weary of Washington’s endless battles over spending and taxes – and the stagnating economy that stalemate has produced – got a chance to hear about a different path on Tuesday night. President Obama’s message in the State of the Union address was clear: It doesn’t have to be this way. The country doesn’t have to get bogged down by demands for endless austerity and government contraction. It doesn’t have to defer investments in education and public works. The poor don’t have to remain on society’s lower rungs, and the middle class can aspire to do better. Obama said his proposals to bring about growth with government action would not have to raise the deficit. What is required to move the country forward is political will, which has been missing for too long. While many of the president’s proposals were familiar, and will probably be snuffed out by politics, his speech explained to a wide audience what could be achieved if there were even a minimal consensus in Washington. – New York Times

The big question of President Obama’s second term is whether he wants to forge bipartisan compromises in the next two years, or whether he wants to spend these years campaigning against Republicans to regain Democratic control of the House in 2014 and then finish his presidency with another liberal crescendo. Judging by his inaugural address and Tuesday night’s State of the Union, we’re guessing he’s going for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama’s second inaugural was a clarion call to “collective action,” as he put it, and Tuesday’s speech showed what he thinks that should mean in practice. “The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem,” he said, while proceeding to offer a new government program to solve every problem. It was what a Democratic president might expect to pass in a liberal Democratic Congress. It was not an olive branch for bipartisan deal-making with the House GOP. In its ambition and partisan framing, the agenda sounded like the opening bell in the 2014 congressional campaign. – Wall Street Journal

Pro-con on allowing women in combat

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced this week that all military combat jobs will be open to women, who in fact already have served in ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Restrictions have gradually been eased over time, but full equality in all service branches now has the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs, and that is overdue. Being denied some combat assignments and other front-line duties limits the rank to which servicewomen can aspire, which in turn limits the talent pool the military can draw from. Removing gender discrimination simply means equal opportunity. If individuals can’t qualify for certain kinds of duty because of physical limitations or other factors, they won’t get the job, whether men or women. But some and perhaps many women will qualify for combat roles now off-limits, and America’s military will be stronger for it. – San Jose Mercury News

Women have been in combat since the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan in 2001. They have fought and served with distinction. However, placing women in infantry and other front-line units is a different issue, and it has nothing to do with their courage or capabilities. The people making this decision are doing so as part of another social experiment. Infantry or Special Forces units have the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy, sometimes in close hand-to-hand combat. They are often in sustained operations for extended periods, during which they have no base of operations nor facilities. Their living conditions are primal in many situations with no privacy for personal hygiene or normal functions. This decision to integrate the genders in these units places additional and unnecessary burdens on leaders at all levels. – Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council

Pro-con: Do Obama gun proposals hit the mark?

The much-needed push for gun safety in America is on. President Obama set the wheels in motion by announcing 23 executive orders aimed at reducing gun violence. He asked Congress to pass substantial laws, including bans on assault weapons and magazines of more than 10 rounds. He also called for background checks on all firearms purchases, including private sales and those made at gun shows. Those steps alone would decrease the likelihood of casualties in shootings and make the United States a safer and saner nation. Better tracking of who is buying and selling firearms would give police valuable tools to prevent the shootings that ravage Kansas City and other urban areas. Only irrational obeisance to the gun lobby would prevent Congress from passing such a sensible law. – Kansas City Star

I am disheartened by the White House gun violence task force’s recommendations, which primarily focus on gun control and missed the opportunity to provide bold proposals that would address the root of these tragedies: mental illness. I will fight proposals in the Senate that threaten our Second Amendment rights and fail to take real action to curb a culture of gun violence in America. I fully support enforcing the gun laws currently on the books instead of creating new ones that erode basic rights of self-protection. It has been statistically proved that passing gun legislation has no effect on removing guns from the hands of criminals. In the end, it is law-abiding citizens who are punished by gun control. With the emphasis mostly on gun control, the president avoided serious measures to tackle the increasingly violent culture in America. – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Pro-con on Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary

On Monday, President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel, 66, a Republican who served two terms in the Senate from Nebraska before stepping down in 2008, to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. He would become the first Vietnam veteran, and the first former enlisted man, to head the Pentagon. You’d think Republicans as well as Democrats would be delighted with this appointment. The wiser ones are. Here’s a man who grew up in poverty, got drafted, earned two Purple Hearts, worked his way through college, made a fortune in the cellphone business and then entered public service. He’s subsequently in the private equity business and now teaches at Georgetown University. If Horatio Alger were a Republican, he’d look a lot like Chuck Hagel. Barring any new disclosures, there is nothing in Hagel’s past or present that should keep any senator from voting for confirmation. And there is a great deal to suggest that he is precisely the leader the Pentagon will need as the nation transitions out of an era of too many wars and unlimited military spending. Hagel, rifle squad leader-turned-internationalist, would bring the right perspective to Pentagon priorities. Troops first. Contractors last. Look before you leap. – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee to be the next secretary of defense, must face serious questions about his record, his statements and troubling hints of anti-Semitism. Once a Republican senator who supported the war in Iraq, he turned against the war, and opposed the surge. Long a darling to those eager for rapprochement with Iran, he has sharply criticized sanctions and opposed the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. Hagel has decried “intimidation” by the “the Jewish lobby” in Washington. Taken in the context of other positions and in light of his consistent willingness to downplay the threat posed by terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, it is not unreasonable to ask whether Hagel has a problem with Jews and the Jewish state. Last but not least, one must wonder at the president nominating a man with a history of slurs against homosexuals, an A rating from the National Rifle Association and a zero rating from the pro-choice lobby NARAL, all questions on which Obama is at odds. – Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, in USA Today

Pro-con: Is fiscal-cliff agreement a positive step?

It would have been grand if the fiscal-cliff package traded Medicare reforms for higher tax rates and a tax-code overhaul. It doesn’t; Congress is too polarized to reach such a deal. Still, the agreement doesn’t deserve the derision it’s getting from some. For now, Congress has found enough common ground to defuse a $600 billion fiscal time bomb – no easy feat considering our divided government and the deep ideological differences between the parties. The agreement’s economic effects also could surprise the naysayers. It sensibly retains some short-term fiscal stimulus while increasing revenue in the long run. And lest we forget, Congress already made more than $1 trillion in spending cuts in 2011. An additional $1.2 trillion could be saved or raised later this year. When added to the just-concluded pact, the total could come close to $3 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases over the coming decade. Deficit reduction in fits and starts is still deficit reduction. – Bloomberg News

So Congress has passed a bill to avoid the tax cliff – hallelujah. This is the way to look at it if you have a pre-Copernican view of politics where Washington is the center of the economic universe. The better way to see it is that the tax bill on the private, productive part of the economy is now coming due for President Obama’s first-term spending and re-election. The Senate-White House compromise grudgingly passed by the House is a Beltway classic: The biggest tax increase in 20 years in return for spending increases, and all spun for political purposes as a “tax cut for the middle class.” But taxes on the middle class were only going up on Jan. 1 because the politicians had set it up that way, manufacturing a fake crisis. The politicians now portray themselves as scrambling heroically to save the day by sparing the middle class while raising taxes on small business, investors and the affluent. – Wall Street Journal

Pro-con on speeding up troop withdrawal

More than 60 percent of Americans want out of Afghanistan. Yet the war goes on, and even the White House plans for too slowly reducing the U.S. troop presence meet resistance from the Pentagon. U.S. commander Gen. George Allen was pushing just a few months ago to keep the current level of troops for another year. The military would also like to maintain a permanent presence of 6,000 to 15,000 troops. That is not going to happen, as the Afghan people don’t want foreign troops in their country. But the attempts to establish a permanent base of operations will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to war. We need to end this war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and elsewhere that are making Americans less secure and recruiting new enemies daily. Then we can focus on fixing our broken economy at home. – Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research

American soldiers should never be put in harm’s way unless it’s vital to our national interests. And if it’s a vital interest, they should stay until the mission is accomplished. To suggest that they can be withdrawn from a mission by an arbitrary date – regardless of progress made or lost – implies that the mission is not important, that they shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. Our armed forces don’t fight for the sake of fighting. And they don’t want to fight on a clock. They fight to serve our nation. And they would rather stay longer and do the job right than come home too soon. Rather than pick a date, the U.S. would do better to ensure that its interests are protected before it walks away. And it should commit to maintaining the forces and capabilities needed to secure its interests in the foreseeable future. – James Jay Carafano, Heritage Foundation

Pro-con: Should GOP toss no-tax pledge over cliff?

Grover Norquist, an unelected right-wing lobbyist accountable to no one except his wealthy funders, has had the Republican Party in his hip pocket for several decades. All but a handful of congressional Republicans have signed his pledge never, ever to raise taxes. Perhaps no other individual is more responsible for the intransigence and irresponsibility of the modern GOP. With the “fiscal cliff” deadline looming, it is time finally for the Republicans to exercise true statesmanship by defying Norquist and asking the most privileged among us to assume a little more sacrifice. The Norquist vision, as he has famously said, is a government so small “we can drown it in the bathtub.” He apparently believes that people who need government support ought to be washed down the drain. For the good of the country and also the Republican Party, it’s time to toss Norquist’s no-tax pledge over the cliff. – Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.

Grover Norquist has become one of Washington’s favorite whipping boys, but taxpayers owe him thanks for focusing needed attention on the real problem in Washington: excessive spending, rather than too-little taxing. Norquist’s no-tax pledge does exactly that. Excessive spending is the cause of Washington’s unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits in recent years. The disorder in the federal government’s fiscal house can be set right only by getting rid of spending programs that America’s taxpayers can’t afford. There are plenty to go round. Signing Norquist’s pledge doesn’t mean opposing all changes in the federal tax code; it merely means looking to spending cuts, first, and then to reforming our Byzantine IRS tax apparatus for collecting them. Republicans, especially, and all of us owe Norquist thanks, not condemnation. – William F. Shughart II, Independent Institute

Pro-con: Is President Obama too hard on business?

Most businesses’ main interaction with government is paying taxes. Government doesn’t help them succeed but rather only erects barriers to overcome. The cost of government taxes and regulations are part of the overhead of a business. The greater the cost of the government overhead, the fewer people a business can hire. The major challenge for President Obama is to realize there is little he can do to help the average business in our country. We want to make a profit so that we can invest to grow our businesses or reward our employees and ourselves for successfully taking on the challenges and uncertainty of business. We also would welcome a little respect for the long hours we put in without any guarantees of reward. We would appreciate some common sense on regulation where absolutes can’t apply but cost-benefit analysis makes sense. – Peter Rush

The canard that President Obama is anti-business is a propaganda remnant from Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign. Obama, after all, was the president who bailed out Wall Street with the Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP and other Obama corporate rescue programs, after all, benefited such goliath corporations as Bank of America, Citigroup, AIG, General Motors and Chrysler – saving tens of thousands of jobs. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus package of 2009, provided direct and indirect assistance to small and large businesses through the hiring of construction firms and related firms to rebuild roads, highways, rail lines, airports and telecommunications infrastructure. Obama actually is saving American capitalism by reining in its excesses and plowing under its inequities. – Wayne Madsen

Pro-con: Should states join expansion of Medicaid?

The facts on the ground make clear that states would be wise to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. First, states will be required to pick up very little of the tab. The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of states’ Medicaid expansions through 2016. The federal contribution will start to decline gradually beginning in 2017, and states will be required to pay for 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in 2020 and beyond. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as a result of these federal subsidies, states’ Medicaid expansions will increase their expenditures on Medicaid by only 2.8 percent between 2014 and 2022. Second, by expanding Medicaid coverage, states will be able to reduce their spending on uninsured individuals through programs other than Medicaid. Recent estimates show that state and local governments cover nearly 20 percent of the cost of uncompensated hospital care and nearly 45 percent of the cost of mental health services provided to low-income and uninsured individuals. The third rationale for expanding state Medicaid programs is perhaps the most compelling: Expanded health coverage will help millions of low-income Americans to lead healthier, more productive lives. – Adam Thomas, Georgetown Public Policy Institute

States are already struggling to pay their Medicaid bills. Why put taxpayers on the hook to pay even more? Medicaid is the single biggest item in state budgets today. It consumes, on average, 23 percent of state dollars spent, pinching funds for other high-priority functions such as education, transportation and emergency services. Yet expanding Medicaid was a central tenet of the Affordable Care Act. It required states to open their program to all individuals earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The goal was to reduce the number of uninsured – by dumping 17 million Americans onto the Medicaid rolls. Many state officials are leery of federal promises to pay program costs in perpetuity. Such skepticism is warranted. Medicaid is a troubled program than can’t be sustained in its current form, much less on the grander scale envisioned by Obamacare advocates. What’s needed is not expansion but reform – a complete makeover of the program that gives the working poor access to private health insurance like the vast majority of Americans enjoy today and restores Medicaid to a true safety net to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society. – Nina Owcharenko, Heritage Foundation

Pro-con on Federal Reserve’s latest ‘monetary easing’

If the economy falters from here on out, it will be difficult to blame the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, and all but one of the other members of the Fed policy committee, took decisive steps on Thursday to spur the economy, pledging to buy $85 billion worth of assets each month until the end of the year and to continue pumping money into the economy until the job market improves “substantially.” The open-ended nature of the plan and its linkage to jobs are welcome changes from previous interventions. Will the latest approach work? No one knows for sure because each new round of strong monetary easing is to some degree experimental. What is known is that fiscal policymakers – that is, Congress – have failed to step forward with stimulative policies, largely because Republicans have refused to even consider measures to hire teachers, rebuild schools and otherwise create jobs. The economy needs more help than the Fed can provide. But the Fed is to be applauded for doing what it can. – New York Times

Chairman Ben Bernanke and his music men at the Fed’s Open Market Committee put on their party hats Thursday and unleashed an unlimited program of monetary easing. The move exceeded even Wall Street’s expectations, but whether it will help the real economy in the long term is doubtful. This is the Fed’s third round of quantitative easing (QE3) since the 2008 panic, and the difference this time is that Ben is unbounded. The Fed said it will keep interest rates at near-zero “at least through mid-2015,” which is six months longer than its previous vow. The bigger news is that the Fed announced another round of asset purchases – only this time as far as the eye can see. Bernanke forswore any partisan motives on Thursday, and we’ll give him the benefit of the personal doubt. But by goosing stock prices, and thus lifting the short-term economic mood, the Fed has surely provided President Obama an in-kind re-election contribution. The irony is that, with this historic and open-ended easing, Bernanke is also tacitly admitting how lousy the Obama-Bernanke economy really is. – Wall Street Journal