Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Civil Rights Victory in New York, Huntsman Gets in the Game, Miserable Money Malaise

New York Makes it Six
Despite weak national leadership on the subject by President Obama, a courageous New York State Senate voted Friday night to legalize gay marriage in the State of New York. The bill had previously cleared the Democratically controlled state House and passed on a final vote through the GOP-controlled body 33-29, which included the votes of 29 of the 30 Democrats in the body and 4 Republicans who were bold enough to buck their party base and their leadership to do the right thing. An enthusiastic Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signed the bill and it is now law.

It is worth appreciating just how far we have come on this issue in a short period of time. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage, but did so through a state court order. This court order set off a fire-storm which, along with some clever politicking by Karl Rove, led to a slew of ballot initiatives in 2004 and beyond which explicitly banned same-sex marriage in 28 states. It wasn't until 2009 that the first legislative legalization of same-sex marriage occurred, with most of New England acting the same year - Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all legalized through the legislative process although Maine's legalization was overturned by a 53%-47% ballot vote on a proposition to repeal in 2009. Iowa and Connecticut also legalized same-sex marriage by court order. The District of Columbia has also legalized same-sex marriage by city ordinance.

The New York law is significant in several ways. First of all, it is the largest state that currently allows same-sex marriage (California allowed same-sex marriage for a brief period before the now-infamous Prop 8 passed by a narrow 52-48% vote in 2008.) Secondly, it is the first time ever that a Republican-controlled state body has passed a gay marriage bill. The 4 Republicans who crossed over deserve all the credit in the world for their courage, credit I withhold from President Obama, who has been decidedly weak on this issue.

So, here is where things stand as of the New York change:
States/Localities Where Gay Marriage is Legal and Performed: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, District of Columbia -- 35.1 million people live in these states or 11.4% of the population

States/Localities Where Gay Marriage is Legal But Not Performed (out-of-state gay marriages recognized): Maryland, New Mexico -- 7.8 million people live in these states or 2.5% of the population

States/Localities Without Gay Marriage but With Civil Unions with Equivalent Rights: New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii -- 74.4 million people live in these states or 24.1% of the population

States/Localities Without Gay Marriage but With Civil Unions with Limited Rights: Colorado, Wisconsin, Maine -- 12.0 million people live in these states or 3.9% of the population

So, cumulatively,
11.4% of the population can get a gay marriage in their home state
13.9% of the population can get a gay marriage and have it recognized in their home state
38.0% of the population has access to either gay marriage or equivalent rights through a civil union
41.9% of the population has access to at least some form of civil union rights

So, we've made a lot of progress but still have a lot to do.

So where are the next fronts in this debate?
(1) The Potential Gay Marriage States
California - a Prop 8 repeal seems likely eventually. The vote was very close in 2008, attitudes have shifted to be somewhat more pro-gay marriage since then and the 2008 vote was ironically hampered by a very high African-American turnout in 2008 (African-Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage but tend to break liberal other than that.) 2012 wouldn't be the ideal time to try, but 2014 might be.
Maine - the last vote in 2009 was only 53%-47%, a new vote might yield a victory for gay rights advocates at the ballot box.
Rhode Island - recent polling indicates strong support (60%+) among the voting population there, although the actual avenue would likely be by legislation through the state house.
Illinois, Washington, Oregon - all states with full civil unions where there is public support for gay marriage (I exclude New Jersey from this list as gay marriage likely has no chance as long as Chris Christie is Governor)

(2) Next Frontiers for Civil Unions
States where civil unions would likely have public support but are probably not ready for gay marriage include a lot of traditional swing states:
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan

(3) The Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act
This act, cowardly signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 permitted states not to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. I've been amazed that this issue has not made it to the Supreme Court, as it seems, on face, to be flagrantly unconstitutional. Article 4, Section 1 of the constitution states:
"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."

The so called "Full Faith and Credit" clause is crystal-clear to the average person. States must honor contracts, legal proceedings and public acts performed in all the other states. It is the basis of our system of rights and property laws. And gay marriage is clearly all three (a contract, a legal proceeding and a public act.)
The Defense of Marriage Act itself quotes the Full Faith and Credit clause and claims constitutionality on the basis that the constitution provides congress the right to the Congress to make determinations about what qualifies under Article 4, Section 1. The constitution contains no such language. I've quoted Article 4, Section 1 in its entirety above.

Conservative support for this highly dubious constitutional argument flies in the face of alleged "strict constructionism". The truth is, conservatives seem fine with judicial activism as long as it supports their agenda.

Much more to come on this key civil rights fight.

Jon Huntsman, The Moderate Long Shot
Speaking of gay rights supporters, former Utah Governor and former Obama Administration Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman got in the race this week. Huntsman is a long shot, for several reason. The first is that his pragmatic, moderate politics don't play well to Republican primary crowds. Huntsman favors civil unions (the same position, as best I can tell, as President Obama), recognizes man-made global warming and has a history of working across the aisle, great general election qualities but poison pills to the tea party. He also suffers from very low name recognition and crowded space among mainstream establishment Republicans (he looks and sounds a lot like both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.) I don't expect Huntsman to win, but he is going to be an interesting voice in the debate.

The Rotten Economy
Unemployment still stands at 9.1%. US Economic growth for the first quarter was only 1.9% and expected to be only modestly better in the second quarter (to give you a feel, 3% growth is generally required just to maintain the unemployment rate, 4 or 5% to significantly dent it.)

President Obama is stuck. New stimulus is a non-starter in the GOP House. Tax cuts only pile on to an already untenable deficit and debt load. He's stuck riding this one out. And as we've often discussed, economics are the single most important factor in Presidential elections.

The approximately 3-year stimulus plan that was already passed continues but is almost out of juice. As of now:
Tax Cut Paid Out: $259.9 billion out of $288 billion (90.2% complete)
Spending: $395.0 billion of $499 billion (79.2% complete)
Overall: $654.9 billion out of $787 billion (83.2% complete)

Of course, the GOP and President Obama agreed to a stimulus bill of sorts at the end of 2010 as part of the deal to extend the Bush Tax Cuts for all. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 provided for many measures intended to stimulate the economy:
* Extension of Bush-era income and capital gains tax reductions through 2012 as well as a compromise on the estate tax rate
* A "fix" to the alternative minimum tax, which raised exemptions to prevent middle-class families from falling under the tax
* Extensions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and American Opportunity Tax Credit
* Job Creation Tax Credits, Ethanol Tax Credits and Accelerated Depreciation Tax Credits for businesses
* A 13-month extension in unemployment benefits
* A brand-new, 1 year payroll tax reduction

This was clearly a much more Republican bill than the original stimulus. The original stimulus was 62% spending and 38% tax cuts and totaled $787B in cost.

The 2010 bill was almost as large, costing approximately $671B, but was only 8% taxing and 92% tax cuts. Spending in the bill broke down as follows:
* Provisions extending Bush-era tax cuts -- 46%
* New Middle Class and Working Class tax cuts -- 37%
* New spending provisions - 8%
* Provisions extending Obama stimulus tax cuts -- 6%
* Other business tax cuts - 3%

Arguably, for all the talk of President Obama being a socialist, he has been the most tax-cutting President in US history. The problem is, he also likes to spend. There is some argument for this as a short-term measure to jump-start the economy. But we are way past short-term. We need to solve the structural deficit, not pass another set of tax gimmicks. Any ideas on how to get to a compromise on that one?

No comments: