With the stock market at an all-time high, with almost 50 consecutive months of positive job growth, with the nation's annual deficit at a six-year low, and with America now the leading producer of oil and gas products in the world, why are a majority of Americans so dispirited and disappointed with President Obama and the Democrats?
And, separately, with a divided government in Washington now, is there hope for progress on key issues in Washington over the next two years?
Let's answer in reverse order.
Yes, there is hope for progress, but it depends on two things. First, which wing of the Republican Party will lead and negotiate matters of legislative seriousness in Washington. If Republicans follow the "sore winners" wing of their party — symbolized by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who declared election night that the Republican sweep ends an era of "Obama lawlessness" — it's unlikely anything meaningful gets done. The paralysis and foolishness of Washington will only persist.
But if Orrin Hatch of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio and, yes, Mitch McConnell — the GOP Senate majority leader from Kentucky who on election night called for cooperation and change — are the dominant faces of Republican leadership, there's a chance for a new day to emerge.
Can important compromises be reached between the president and Congress on trade, taxes, immigration, and energy policy?
Very likely, especially if Republicans agree to the creation of a public-private bank to jumpstart critical U.S. building initiatives — including new airports, broadband networks, roads, schools, pipelines, and subway lines. In addition, the Republicans need to accept that an outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka "Obamacare") isn't going to happen. They should aim instead to repeal the medical device tax portion of the ACA, a policy change I support, as do many Republicans and Democrats.
But, first, the Republicans should give the president the trade promotion authority he has sought but been denied by the Senate's Democratic leadership over the past years. What a White House visual that would be in the next few weeks: the president, surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, signing a piece of legislation!
Obama and the Democrats have to be willing to do their part. The president's first reaction to the election last Wednesday was a seeming effort to dodge any accountability for our party's losses. Fortunately, on Sunday, Obama pushed the reset button by acknowledging that the buck stops with him.
If I were advising the president, I'd recommend three things:
First, he should sign the Keystone Pipeline legislation and then agree not to change immigration laws unilaterally right now. And, in exchange, the Republicans should agree to raise the minimum wage and not repeal the ACA. This deal is achievable if the president leads on it.
Independent analysis of the environmental impact of building the Keystone Pipeline substantiates a negligible carbon impact, and, in addition, a large number of Congressional Democrats want it as well. The long-term job-creation impact of the pipeline's construction is in dispute. But what is not is that the pipeline's construction would immediately produce thousands of well-paying jobs.
Second, to deal with immigration, the president should appoint a bipartisan, Baker-Hamilton 9/11-like commission to offer recommendations by June to the president and Congress. He should ask majority leaders John Boehner and McConnell to agree to a vote on all or some of the recommendations before Congress adjourns for the year in the fall. If the Republicans don't act in good faith, then the president can act by executive action at the end of the year.
Next, raise the carried-interest rate to 25 percent, and lower the corporate tax rate to 20 percent to make it more competitive globally, while granting a 90-day, 12.5 percent tax holiday for repatriation. Proceeds from the tax holiday could fund a public-private bank to begin rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure.
And last, Obama should be more social with Congress, spending regular time with congressional leaders from both parties who have complained that they don't see the president enough. If for no other reason, better answers to the avalanche of foreign policy challenges the country faces are likely to be attained if there's increased dialogue and trust between Congress and the president.
Some will argue that these recommendations aren't big enough. But it's surely preferable for the political argument in this country to be about how to do more things in Washington and not just about how to get something — anything — done.
And we the people should do our part. Let us be as diligent in educating ourselves on the issues as we are in hurling invective at our political opponents. Let us not attack others' political ideas unless we have alternatives to fix problems we know exist.