The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "bully pulpit" as "a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue." President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to call the White House a bully pulpit, and he and other heads of the executive branch have used it as a platform to raise the profile of various issues and push forward an agenda for change. The most regular, high-profile instance of highlighting priority issues is the annual "State of the Union" address (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first called it that in 1934), where the president addresses a joint session of Congress huddled together in the House chamber.
December was a tough month for those down on their luck. More than a million long-term unemployed workers, having already been out of work for at least six months, saw their unemployment insurance abruptly cut off. Just weeks before this happened, federal food assistance for children, seniors, and people with disabilities was reduced. Job growth was anemic, and the unemployment rate fell because many people simply stopped looking for work (and so moved from "unemployed" to "out of the labor market").
2013 opened with the economy poised on the edge of "the fiscal cliff," and on that cliff was a sign reading, "Manufactured in Washington D.C." How did we start the year on a ledge, land in a shutdown in October, and scramble to a mini-deal in December? Since it all goes back to the Budget Control Act passed in August of 2011, a short recap may be in order.
Observers have low expectations of the special House-Senate committee set up to craft recommendations for a long-term fiscal deal to replace the next nine years of so-called "sequestration" (automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts). Those recommendations are due by Dec. 13. The committee met for the first time last week, with Republicans publicly opposed to tax reforms that could generate more revenue and Democrats rejecting a spending cuts-only approach. But some think a smaller deal could happen to replace a year or more of sequestration, involving more "federal user fees" as a modest way to generate more funding.
Just after midnight on Oct. 17, President Obama signed legislation that avoided a dangerous default and reopened the government after the third-longest government shutdown in history. Under the terms of the deal, the government was funded through Jan. 15, 2014, and the debt limit was extended until Feb. 7, 2014.
A self-inflicted economic disaster looms on the horizon. Failure to approve a routine measure allowing the U.S. to manage its finances and pay the bills it already owes would have devastating effects. Increasing the debt ceiling is the only way to avoid a destabilization of the American economy.
Last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would restrict the use of offshore tax havens by corporations. At a time when corporate profits are high by historic standards, the bill could raise money for vital government programs and reduce the deficit. The legislation is a slimmed down version of the Cut Unjustified Tax (CUT) Loopholes Act of 2013 (S. 268), introduced earlier this year.