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The State of the Union Speech

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The State of the Union speech, during an election year and in front of a divided Congress, is an impossible speech to give. On the one hand, the President needed to give a unifying speech, but on the other, he has to set the framework for the upcoming session of Congress and, even more, the upcoming election. President Obama effectively balanced those two assignments last night.

Politico on SOTU

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Politico has a very smart article up regarding tonight's State of the Union address. The writers ask a simple question that Obama needs to start answering tonight: Just what, precisely, does President Obama intend to do in a second term if he earns one?

I would add an additional question: What political strategy would permit him to achieve whatever his goals are in a second term. If, as appears likely, the Obama re-election campaign has decided to focus on the base, he will not emerge with a mandate to do much even if he wins. If, however, the President were to run on three simple, broadly significant programs that affect the middle class, he could emerge with such a mandate. My candidates: immigration reform, tax reform, and infrastructure spending. Of course, whoever wins in November is likely to spend a lot of time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, about the Straits of Hormuz, about the leadership in North Korea, and Lord knows what else. But, on domestic policy, an incumbent running for re-election is well-advised to run on a simple and straight-forward platform.

Mitt's Taxes

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This morning, former Gov. Mitt Romney released his taxes from last year, and a prospective look at what he will file this year. Over both years, Romney made $42.5 million and will have paid $6.2 million in taxes when he files in April. In 2010, Romney's effective tax rate was 13.9% and his accountants anticipate he will pay an effective rate of 15.4% this year. The Romneys gave $7 million to charities during these two years.

Romney pays a lower rate than most of us because almost all of his income was derived from capital gains on investments. When Ronald Reagan and Bill Bradley negotiated the last serious overhaul of the tax code, they eliminated a special rate for capital gains. The lower rate for capital gains was reinstated by President Bill Clinton in the late 90's in exchange for special tax breaks Clinton wanted. It was one of Clinton's biggest mistakes.

No, I'm Not Becoming a Republican

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The response to my article announcing that I could not vote for President Obama again, in light of his decision to keep an exceedingly narrow conscience exemption to the HHS mandates, has certainly garnered a great deal of attention. I thank everyone who has commented.

But, one of the more frequent comments seems to me misplaced, namely, those that suggest I shall now be a Republican.

Teixeira on Hispanic Vote

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Roy Teixeira has an article up today at TNR that focuses on the critical importance of the Hispanic vote in the upcoming presidential race. Although President Obama has not delivered anything like a real push for comprehensive immigration reform, and has exceeded previous administrations in the number of deportations, the GOP nominating contest has dragged that party into the far-reaches of the "deport 'em all" approach to immigration associated previously with such outliers at Tom Tancredo. Mitt Romney is especially virulent in his anti-immigration stance, using that as the one issue on which he can try to outflank Gingrich and Santorum from the right.

If Latinos in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado back Obama and carry those states, getting to 270 electoral votes becomes much, mcuh easier for Obama and much, much more complicated for the republican nominee, whoever it is.

On To Florida

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Newt Gingrich did not defeat Mitt Romney on Saturday. He thumped him. Gingrich won in all but three counties in the Palmetto State, and won every age and income demographic with one exception. Mr. Romney won among those who make more than $200,000 per annum. The 1% stood by their own.

The size of Gingrich’s victory was startling and it was principally the result of a single fact, one unlikely to repeat itself: Gingrich had a great week last week and Romney had a dreadful week. If they had both had good weeks, or more likely, both had so-so weeks, the margin would have been tighter. But, going forward, it is vital that both campaigns focus in particular on why Newt’s week was so good and why Mitt’s was so bad as they craft their strategy for the rest of the race.

UPDATED: White House refuses to expand conscience exemption

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UPDATE: This article now includes the statement from the USCCB on the HHS decision.

To say that news of the decision by President Obama not to expand the conscience exemption for church-affiliated institutions who do not wish to cover birth control is a disaster would be a gross understatement. I'll explain my thoughts on the subject in a subsequent post.

But one sentence in the statement from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stands out: “The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.”

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