- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

The Detroit Free Press. Jan. 29.

A chastened president charts a solitary path forward

Americans are likely nowhere near as divided as their elected representatives in Washington, but there seems little prospect for successful bipartisan collaboration as President Barack Obama begins his sixth year in the White House.

On Tuesday night, in his fifth State of the Union address, the embattled president outlined plans to advance his agenda, even if the Republican-controlled House continues to resist it.

“I’m eager to work with all of you,” Obama told members of Congress gathered for his nationally televised speech. “But America does not stand still - and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more Americans families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Obama comes by his frustration honestly. The signature legislative achievement of his presidency - a desperately needed initiative to extend quality health care to millions of uninsured Americans - was modeled on a proposal originally championed by Republican President Richard Nixon and implemented, with initially promising results, by Republican Mitt Romney when he served as Massachusetts’ governor. Yet, Obama’s plan did not attract a single GOP vote, and House Republicans have made its repeal the centerpiece of their own retrograde agenda.

A year ago, fresh off his resounding re-election victory and riding a 57 percent approval rating, Obama was nevertheless stone-walled in his efforts to reduce gun violence or reform immigration law. This past fall, Republican efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act culminated in 16-day government shutdown, a spectacle of bureaucratic ineptitude eclipsed only by the stumbling debut of the president’s health reform.

Since early December, when he described growing income inequality as “the defining issue of our time,” Obama has repeatedly signaled his intention to make middle-class opportunity the lodestar of his second term. “I will measure myself at the end of my presidency,” he told journalist David Remnick in an interview published in last week’s New Yorker, “in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this country.”

On Tuesday night, Obama outlined a number of initiatives he is prepared to take unilaterally if congressional Republicans refuse to confront the widening chasm between the wealthiest Americans and the 99 percent of wage-earners who have claimed just 5 percent of the nation’s economic growth since the 2008 recession.

He promised to streamline permitting for public infrastructure projects that boost employment. He said he was ordering the Treasury Department to offer a new retirement savings instrument for workers who lack pensions or 401(k) plans, and he challenged lawmakers to surround the new instrument with tax incentives similar to those offered to wealthy investors.

He urged Congress to restore the long-term unemployment benefits it recently allowed to lapse and to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but said he would lead by example by ordering the same pay hike for all federal contractors’ minimum-wage employees.

The president was also unyielding in defense of the Affordable Care Act, warning its critics that Americans will not abide the dismantling of a new health care regime that is already providing coverage to millions of previously uninsurable policyholders.

Immigration is the policy arena in which Democrats and Republicans have the best chance to collaborate successfully. Obama repeated a call for comprehensive reform that he has made in four past State of the Union speeches. But this time, spurred by strategists who want to boost the GOP’s standing with Hispanics and governors (including Michigan’s Rick Snyder) who link more immigration to economic growth, GOP lawmakers may be more receptive.

It is a little sad to hear the president (who seized the nation’s imagination 10 years ago by asserting that blind partisanship was passe) making plans to govern around the margins of an obdurate opposition party. But that may be the best we can hope for in a gridlocked Washington where congressional inaction has become just another obstacle to middle-class opportunity.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). Jan. 27.

Snyder on track with immigration

Rick Snyder isn’t shy about his dissatisfaction with America’s immigration system - and he’s right.

Our attention has been exclusively focused on illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the need for legal immigrants, those who can immediately help the nation prosper, are afterthoughts at best.

As someone who made his mark as a business executive, the governor knows how detrimental immigration restrictions can be. Foreign students earn degrees at Michigan colleges and universities, but must leave the state after they graduate when they could contribute their expertise to our state’s economic growth.

After visiting Washington last week to garner support for his plans to bring more immigrants to Michigan, the governor minced no words in his contempt for the nation’s immigration policy.

“Why would we build the dumb system we have today that says, ‘We don’t want you here?’” Snyder asked.

A highlight of the governor’s State of the State speech earlier this month, immigration reform clearly is a Snyder priority for Michigan, if not America. He wants Michigan to become the second state in the nation to run a regional center for the EB-5 visa program that uses businesses to recruit foreign investors for development projects and offers permanent U.S. residency to themselves and their families.

He wants immigrants to start new businesses in the state with investments of at least $500,000 and 10 employees.

Snyder also wants at least 50,000 new immigrants to live and work in Detroit through the next five years. He was in Washington to ask President Barack Obama and other federal officials to provide the necessary visas.

If Michigan needs an influx of immigrants, Detroit certainly does. As the state’s largest city copes with bankruptcy, the addition of new residents, presumably with professional skills, could help the ailing city’s economic turnaround.

Snyder’s push for a more sensible immigration policy is a breath of fresh air. His advocacy reminds us that America, after all, is a nation of immigrants, and its history is shaped in part by many of their successful efforts to improve their adopted country.

It’s time to welcome new people and their new ideas. The governor’s ideas make for a welcome vision for Michigan and America.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). Jan. 29.

Child sex crime bill appropriate change in state statute

We support action taken by the Michigan House of Representatives, which voted recently to increase the penalties for soliciting sex from a minor.

The body made the offense a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in state prison. Currently, according to The Associated Press, the offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of 93 days in the county jail.

The measure that was sent to the State Senate for consideration, was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Dalke Zorn of downstate Ida.

He said, and we concur, that children who are forced in the sex trade must be protected.

Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of White Lake, who sponsored a similar measure, agreed.

She noted sexual exploitation “is unacceptable at any age, but it is particularly terrible for those children who are forced into prostitution.”

Crimes of any nature against children are heinous. Sex crimes are among the worst. We hope the bill quickly passes the State Senate and finds its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

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Lansing State Journal. Jan. 27.

Detroit settlement is best for state

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

The great physicist’s wisdom may help Michiganders put the right perspective on the need to resolve Detroit’s bankruptcy. Being frank, what’s been done in Detroit in the past has not worked. Repeating it would be lunacy. Yet leaving Detroit to flounder without state involvement is not a solution.

Gov. Rick Snyder and many of the others involved aren’t interested in doing the same thing over and over again. There won’t be a bailout for Detroit, a gift of money that lets the city go its merry way.

Instead, Snyder’s proposal would provide a modest amount - $350 million paid over 20 years - to support a plan that makes significant changes in the way things have been done in Detroit.

- Snyder’s proposal calls for professional management of the city’s pension funds, which would put a stop to the practice of leaving local pension boards unsupervised in making decisions that, over time, have produced an estimated $3.5 billion deficit in the pension funds (a figure disputed by some). Snyder wants an independent entity to oversee and provide professional expertise to the city’s general pension system.

- Pensions won’t be untouched, although the final impact will be reached in mediation. As Snyder said in announcing his plan: “It will not make retirees whole, but it would significantly reduce the burdens that they would otherwise face.”

- The Detroit Institute of Arts would be required to establish a new governance structure that separates it from the city. This would protect the art collection from being sold to satisfy creditors. But it also means changes in how the DIA views its role, from a regional asset to one with a statewide audience.

- Creditors need to understand that like everyone else, they won’t get exactly everything they want (case in point, the DIA’s art won’t provide an easy bandage for their wound).

There is no perfect solution to Detroit, but pretending that a settlement is a “bailout” to stubbornly ignore the need for state involvement is foolish in extreme. Michigan can’t reach its full potential if it leaves Detroit languish in its problems.

Bleating about “bailouts” is as bad as demanding more blood from the stone that is Detroit’s finances. Detroit and all the rest of Michigan are in this together. Craft a careful deal that changes past practices. But make the deal.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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