By Grace Masback and Gunnar Fairbairn
WANT Original Content
President Obama was certainly on a roll last week. Last Thursday, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) survived another legal attack before the Supreme Court and on Friday the Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Earlier in the week, in a rare case of cooperation with Congressional Republicans, he orchestrated passage of a trade bill that could lead to a new era of trade with Asia. Mere weeks after his approval rating hit a record low of 30% in the polls, Obama is back, with major agenda items on course and his legacy solidified. The President feels so good about things he was even able to take on a heckler at a meeting about border legislation in “his house,” suggesting that the heckler act respectfully.
Although positioned as controversial and all but “anti-American” by its conservative opponents, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) set up an insurance exchange that makes it easier for Americans to secure health insurance, and more than 16 million now have insurance that never did before. Admitting that there were mistakes in the drafting of the law, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.” By a 6 to 3 vote, the Supreme Court saved the law and cemented it in place.
Every Democratic President since Truman tried to enact comprehensive healthcare reform. Once in power, President Obama made medical insurance for all Americans the most important item of his legislative agenda. He succeeded early in his first term, and as soon as the ACA was signed into law, Republicans and conservative activists began looking for every way to bring the law down. After the Republicans took back the House of Representatives in 2010, they began taking what became dozens of votes to dismantle what they derisively called “Obamacare.” Conservative think tanks funded legal efforts aimed at taking down the law. Twice they succeeded in getting cases to the Supreme Court that would have crippled the law or sent it into a death spiral. All those efforts failed, and like Social Security, America’s first big social welfare program from the 1930s, the ACA remains the law of the land in spite of Republican efforts to destroy it. In Obama’s words, “. . . the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. What we’re not going to do is unravel what has now been woven into the fabric of America.”
The very next day the Obama Administration celebrated another victory when the Supreme Court upheld the right of members of the same sex to marry in a 5-4 vote. Now, if two people of the same gen
der marry in one state and move to another state, the union will still be recognized. This represents the ultimate and most significant achievement in the fight for gay rights. Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”
Although it took a while for
President Obama to get there, this critical issue of the gay rights movement became one he championed, and he can take pride in the fact that two female Justices he appointed, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, were part of the majority. Our country has come a long way in a very short time. For all of human history, marriage was defined as a union between a man and a woman. This was often a matter more of economic convenience than religious principle. Arranged marriages existed to facilitate the union of important families or to make alliances or peace among neighboring countries. Only recently was marriage about love. Now, with people defining themselves differently, the Supreme Court has codified a new definition of marriage.
Last Wednesday brought news of the Senate voting to give President Obama (and Presidents that follow) “Trade Promotion Authority” (TPA), or the ability to negotiate trade treaties that get an “up or down” vote in Congress, meaning Congress can either accept a trade deal as negotiated by the President or reject it . . . they cannot amend it. This is important because the Obama Administration is on the brink of a major deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade deal with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The TPP will lower trade barriers, expand markets for American goods, and reduce costs for American companies operating abroad. Most economists see the potential for the TPP to spur growth of the American and global economy. While most Democrats in Congress opposed theTPA bill and labor unions fought fiercely to block it, saying that it would lead to American jobs going overseas, President Obama worked tirelessly with Republican leaders and secured just enough Democratic votes for passage of the bill. Now, his negotiators must deliver a treaty that checks the boxes of both the supporters of the TPP and the bill’s opponents.
Deals like these are an inevitable part of globalization. However, progress towards the United States and other economic powers working together to create a high-functioning international economy, rather than going out of their way to hurt one another via tariffs, taxes, and other barriers to trade, can usher in a new era of economic expansion.
President Obama should be smiling as in a single week his efforts to be at the forefront of positive, far-reaching, and impactful change were rewarded with significant achievements. Yes, the Republican Congress and large segments of American society still show him no respect, but he deserves credit for these achievements and I say give him a pair of Kobe 10 Elites or Yeezy Boost 350’s so that he can play in his next basketball game with style and swagger. He may not be able to dunk, but his cunning play-making and tenacious defense have won the day, at least in the rough and tumble political world.
Photo Credit: Reuben Schafir (Portland, Oregon)