Friday, March 20, 2009

Stem Cell Reversal, Ron Kirk Approved, Presidential Economic Credibility at Risk, We Take John Stewart Seriously Now?

Stem Cells
I had been remiss in writing about it, but 11 days ago on March 9th, President Obama altered the existing governmental policy surrounding funding of research for embryonic stem cells. It is probably not new news to anyone, but I wanted to comment on it to clear up some common misconceptions about the action the President took and the previous government policy.

Embryonic stem cell research has always been legal in the United States, at least since Roe vs. Wade. No executive policy of President Bush or anyone previous to him altered this. Nor did President Bush's policy totally exclude federal dollars from going to research on embryonic stem cells.

Under Bush Administration policy, the federal government did restrict federal government funding to only existing embryonic stem cell lines and prohibited use on any new lines that were developed (from new embryos.) Scientists had complained that the existing lines were insufficient to conduct the necessary research to capture the full potential of embryonic stem cells, including potentially growing organ replacements or advanced gene therapy to cure degenerative diseases. Conservatives countered that adult stem cells could be used for this purpose, but in my mind, they did not have the majority of the scientific community in agreement with this assertion.

With President Obama's new executive order, research can be funded on new lines of embryonic stem cells. As a pro-choice American who believes in the potential of embryonic stem cell research, I applaud his decision.

I do not, however, agree with assertions from the left that the Bush Administration policy was a usurption of science by religion. This is an ethical disagreement and ethics always enter into policy. We ban human cloning because we think it is unethical, not because the science dictates it. Bush felt that destroying frozen embryos for science was unethical. I disagree, but respectfully.

Ron Kirk, US Trade Representative
In all the chaos with his cabinet, President Obama has filled another slot, albeit not a department head. Ron Kirk, whose nomination had been at the Senate since day 1, was finally approved by the Senate as US Trade Representative, by a decisive 92-5 vote in the Senate.

The scattered opposition came from across the spectrum with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT) joining 3 Republicans in opposition, but Kirk's nomination was in no real danger.

This still leaves 2 department heads to be approved: former Washington Governer Gary Locke at Commerce and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) at Health and Human Services. Both are expected to be confirmed although the timeline is unclear.

Is President Obama Credible on the Economy?
The President's credibility on economic issues has taken some serious hits this week. First, after expressing outrage at the AIG bonuses, we learn that they were legally protected in the stimulus bill because of language that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) insert into the stimulus bill.

Next, we learn today that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates of the deficits under President Obama's proposed 10 year budget outline would actually be cumulatively $2.3 trillion higher than the White House had been advertising.

Plus, we have a continued lack of a cohesive plan to deal with the financial sector.

Add it all up and people's faith in President Obama's capability to steer the economy back on the right track is being severely tested.

Ironically, economic prospects themselves, as I have been writing for the past month, actually appear to be improving and we may see the economy growing again by the back half of the year.

Still, President Obama is expending a lot of capital and burning through a lot of faith and trust.

So what should he do?
#1 Be more open with owning up to mistakes. Call it like it is. Putting Tim Geithner out there early with no details was a bad idea. Inserting the language protecting AIG bonuses into the stimulus package was a huge mistake. Say so. Tell us what you are going to do to fix it.
#2 Consider a change at Treasury. Geithner has been nothing but an albatross so far. I realize it's early, but we can't give him the normal learning curve time. Bush held on to a lousy Treasury Secretary for too long in his second term. Wait until the rest of your cabinet is filled in and then move decisively. And for God's sake, fill the undersecretary roles there.
#3 Stop with the gimimcks. Enough with campaign-style rallies, the late night talk show appearences and all of that. Talk straight at your press conference next week. Then get to governing.
#4 Show some willingness to make hard choices. Let's be real. Either taxes will go up on people making less than $250K, you will have to make some scale backs to your ambitious agenda or we will get buried under debt. Quit pretending we don't have to make those choices.

Jon Stewart, of Inflated Relevance
Okay, so I joined the party and wrote about the Stewart vs. Cramer debate (Stewart destroyed Cramer incidentally, in case you missed it.) But who knew he was so important? Conservative commentators have been blasting Stewart of late. To me this is sort of like liberals blasting P.J. O'Rourke. Sure, Stewart talks politics a lot and has a decent-sized audience. But he is not a serious commentator and doesn't claim to be. He's funny and I like him, but for Tucker Carlson to be writing about him in a serious policy dissection seems crazy to me. Let me make political jokes and if we want to have policy debates, debate President Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid, etc.

Incidentally, can we stop talking about liberal media bias now? CNN is criticizing President Obama daily (not without cause in most cases, mind you) and to my eyes, if I flip the TV to a random news channel, I'm much more likely to see a conservative voice than a liberal one. There was an argument to be made about bias surrounding the election coverage, but I think it is safe to say that the honeymoon is over.

60 Days and Counting
60 of your first 100 days are over, Mr. you feel 4 years older yet?

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