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The U.S. Isn’t California, and Obama’s Not a Jedi (Unfortunately)

March 5, 2013

Waiting for Jerry to give him lessons.

In a column today at Salon, David Sirota argues that Obama is approaching his “Jerry Brown moment”: just as Jerry Brown accepted a cuts-only austerity budget and used the public backlash against the cuts to marshall support for the tax increases in Prop. 30, Obama can will be able to use public backlash from the sequester cuts to secure passage of his plan to close tax loopholes. Superficially, his argument makes sense – Jerry Brown faced a similar dilemma, i.e. needing Republican support for tax increases to avoid further cuts, prior to the passage of Prop. 30.

However, upon further examination, the analogy doesn’t hold up. The main reason: there’s no initiative process for the United States. Jerry Brown was able to pass tax increases because he had the support of the electorate as expressed on Election Day, not Republican support. To pass taxes at the national level, Obama would need support from Republicans in Congress, but Jerry Brown didn’t have Republican support in the California Legislature. Furthermore, even if a majority of the public supported Obama’s plan, as a majority of Californians supported Brown’s plan, that won’t necessarily translate into Congressional support because of the malapportionment of the House. Plus, even if he did have majority support in the House and Senate for his plan, Republicans could still use the filibuster, since Harry Reid didn’t think they’d continue to abuse it and refused to implement meaningful reform. All of which is to say that the support of a majority of the public isn’t enough to get something passed in Washington. The political system is not responsive enough.

So, what will happen? In my eyes, it depends on two things: whether Senate Democrats are willing to ignore the filibuster and whether John Boehner and the Republican House leadership is willing to allow a balanced bill, with spending cuts and tax increases, to be voted on without the support of a majority of the Republican House caucus. Obama pointed out recently that he’s not a Jedi and thus he can’t just compel Republicans to agree with his plan:

Obama’s plan is supported by the public, as was Jerry Brown’s, but because of the differences between the two political systems it doesn’t matter as much. Eventually, it’s possible that something similar could take place – public sentiment driving a tax increase after austerity measures – but Obama will have to go through the Republican Party to get his increase; Brown didn’t. Does this make Brown a Jedi instead of Obama? Probably not, but perhaps.

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