Political Animal


September 03, 2011 8:00 AM Giving away a potential bargaining chip

By Steve Benen

There are all kinds of reasons this seems like an awful mistake, but there’s one angle in particular that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around.

President Obama … rejected a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency [yesterday morning] that would have significantly reduced emissions of smog-causing chemicals, saying that it would impose too severe a burden on industry and local governments at a time of economic distress.

Business groups and Republicans in Congress had complained that meeting the new standard, which governs emissions of so-called ground-level ozone, would cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs. […]

The E.P.A., following the recommendation of its scientific advisers, had proposed lowering the so-called ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, set at the end of the Bush administration, to a stricter standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion. The change would have thrown hundreds of American counties out of compliance with the Clean Air Act and required a major enforcement effort by state and local officials, as well as new emissions controls at industries across the country.

I’m trying to imagine this from the White House’s perspective. Let’s say top officials were convinced by business interests that the smog rules really would undermine short-term job growth. There are many with more familiarity with environmental policy who can speak to this with more authority than I can, but for the sake of conversation, let’s assume the White House was genuinely convinced that these stricter ozone standards would be bad for the economy right now.

Let’s also say that the White House has become obsessed with looking for ways — any ways — to give the job market a boost, and practically all other considerations have been deemed suspect, at least for now. If I were drawing up a list of considerations that probably take precedence over unemployment, I’d probably put “the ability to breathe clean air” pretty close to the top, but again, for the sake of conversation, let’s assume the West Wing’s focus on jobs has become all-consuming.

Even if we make these assumptions, the policy still has a dramatic, strategic flaw.

President Obama is going to deliver a big speech on the economy on Thursday, and in the weeks that follow, there will presumably be at least some talks between Democrats and Republicans about job-creating ideas. Democratic leaders, in both the White House and Congress, will be pushing for things like infrastructure investments, and Republicans will be pushing for measures like weakening/eliminating environmental regulations.

With this in mind, even if West Wing officials sincerely believed these ozone standards would be bad the job market, why not keep this realization close to their chest, and then trade it to Republicans in exchange for something else? Why not use the rules as a bargaining chip?

Yesterday, GOP leaders were only too pleased to applaud the White House’s decision (which, as a rule, reinforces the notion that the policy move was dreadful). But I suspect Republicans were pleased, not only because of the weaker environmental standard, but also because they didn’t have to give up anything in return.

Environmental advocates have vowed to challenge the new standard in court. I’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on September 03, 2011 8:09 AM:

    Advice from armchair quarterbacks is generally worth the offering price.
    Let the castigation cascade begin. . .

  • tomb on September 03, 2011 8:11 AM:

    I was thinking the same thing yesterday. Giving up negotiating chips before the negotiations have even started has been a pattern with this administration; and I don't understand why they can't learn that no matter what they do, they will not create good will with Republicans.

  • kschultz on September 03, 2011 8:12 AM:

    I just don't think this has any basis in economic thought. I think the WH realizes that they have been bludgeoned with the meme that their administration has fomented a regulatory morass. Add to that the demonization of the EPA and this becomes an effort to take the bite out of these politicized accusations. They can couch it in the right wing terminology of "relaxing regulations to help business and create more jobs". When what it really is, is an effort to defuse a powerful meme. I don't like it, but at least I get it.

  • sjw on September 03, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Look, I'm not happy about saying this, but Obama is on a clear path to being a one-term president. He is so lousy at Washington politics, so believing his own b.s. that he can change how Washington works, and so intent on showing his supposed bona fides in this regard that he has thoroughly alienated those who so ardently supported him in 2008, I really have a hard time imagining that I can vote for him even holding my nose. And why would independents vote for him when he is such a wimp ass? It's time to give up on the guy and look for an alternative.

  • Ron Byers on September 03, 2011 8:19 AM:

    How many people will become ill or die to defuse a "meme." Hummmmmm.

  • FRP on September 03, 2011 8:20 AM:

    The idea is beginning to set that the President is weak . LFOD is saying that the only way to engage natural allies at this point would be
    "the only way Obama can turn this around at this point is to turn into the Maximus character from the Gladiator movie"
    Now my mind is as reasonably flexible on a range of matters as is useful , still being able to recognise the original intent , or definition . In my mind the flexibility of the President has begun to tire the grip of my definition of being able to hold an opinion . In other words to warp and flutter on solid ground is an earthquake , by definition . Calling the earthquake a reminder of how we all feel grumpy at times is cute . Failing to build with codes regulating building flex and rigidity is not cute . In case your idea of cute is crushing deaths , including expiring due to thirst , suffocation , and cholera , pardon moi .
    Now I am not saying that I ever thought Obama was cute , I would not in any case , but I think there comes a time when the rocking from destabilizing elements contributes to a new understanding as the older one has been rocked off .

  • berttheclock on September 03, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Careful, sjw, or you will not be invited to Choir Practice.

  • c u n d gulag on September 03, 2011 8:22 AM:

    Sometimes, I'm at a loss for words at what I'm seeing...

    Early in Spring Training of 1962, after Casey Stengel had a chance to watch the new Mets team he was managing a little bit, called a team meeting and asked,
    "Does anyone here know how to play this game?"

    The sad thing is that Obama's is NOT a new team.

    But sometimes they sure play politics like the 1962 Mets played baseball.

    For those of you out there who are not baseball fans, that is NOT a compliment!

  • Domage on September 03, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Looking at the totality of the Obama presidency--from his campaign to his actual actions in office--I can reach no other conclusion than that he is really a Republican at heart. Not the off-the-scope lunatic Republican of today, but a genuine Bush-Reagan Republican.

    Every policy--whether it's ACA or the stimulus, wars or environmental regulation--begins with adopting what was the Republican position 12 or so years ago. The policy then move rightward from there.

    I will not be voting for Obama next year. No matter who runs on the GOP ticket, the choice we're being presented with is the incumbent Republican not-so-lite and the more extreme GOP nutjob.

  • berttheclock on September 03, 2011 8:30 AM:


    For years, I wanted my old beloved Kansas City A's to play those early teams of the NYM in a sort of Toilet Bowl World Series to determine which team was, actually, the worst team in baseball.

    However, the best line from yesterday, was the one by Ron Reagan on "Hardball", where, he said he would gag the next time he heard the word Bi-Partisan in any speech from the White House. When, will 1600 Ave have a public bonfire and burn the word bi-partisan?

  • R on September 03, 2011 8:36 AM:

    My spousal unit offered this: "Maybe he's making space so that he can say no to the Tar Sands pipeline." Maybe, or maybe not. If I lived closer to Lafayette Park I'd be there today:

    Captcha: eirtyi contrary (indeed)

  • Brenna on September 03, 2011 8:40 AM:

    Yep, it's being said out loud on even the benevolent left leaning blogs like Steve's. Is this guy really on our side? Is he good for America.

    I just a read story on Political that after the jobs speech, he will release a detailed deficit-cutting plan. evidently, stuff that he and Boehner discussed behind closed doors.

    If the jobs speech is a dud, just more rah rah, and the deficit cutting hurts middle and poor America for no good reason other than to please his fellow republican buddies, then we dems must decide if we should cut this guy loose and try to find someone who will represent our real needs. Dire needs. Time's a wasting.

  • c u n d gulag on September 03, 2011 8:40 AM:

    As bad as those A's teams were before they left for Oakland, they'd have kicked the early-mid 60's Mets butt's.

    Mainly because your team had all of the not so good players that the Yankees traded for the likes of Roger Maris, and about half of thechampionship roster in the late 50's-early 60's. They may have been not so good, but they were better than anyone on that team whose last name wasn't Ashburn or Thomas.

    And yeah, Obama needs to take the "b" word, beat it, set it on fire, piss on it, then bury it.
    After all, that's what they want to do to him!

  • walt on September 03, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Obama has taken the measure of the Democratic base and decided we're simply not worth it. He doesn't have our back, and judging from the comments here, it seems like he won't have ours.

    Of course, the prospect of a President Perry appointing recent Regent University graduates to SCOTUS might change our minds next year. But how do you work for a guy eager to validate the insane policy prescriptions of the radical right? What ultimately would be the point of a second Obama term? Capitulating our way to a more perfect union?

  • Live Free or Die on September 03, 2011 8:49 AM:

    I was having drink at a lounge yesterday and people were still talking about how Obama caved on the speech. These guys and gals were not very political, but the meme has started taking hold that Obama is very weak. People were questioning why he was not putting up a fight. I agree with Steve that Obama has a pattern of preemptively giving up bargaining chips. Its like if you are going to buy a house, and the guy tells you that we will take off 20 % and give you upgrades before you even tell him what price you are willing to pay. Obviously, Obama is not a poker player.

    Mr CAPTCHA Says: grimmer hnicail. Even CAPTCHA is bummed out.

  • berttheclock on September 03, 2011 8:53 AM:

    In 1962, the erstwhile first baseman of the NYM, Marv Throneberry had a birthday. Casey Stengel told him, "I would have bought you a cake, but, you would have, probably, dropped it".

    It looks more and more that the populace bought Obama a huge cake in '08 and he and his so-called advisors have dropped it.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on September 03, 2011 8:53 AM:

    When, will 1600 Ave have a public bonfire and burn the word bi-partisan?-berttheclock

    Can we also burn the phrase, "adult in the room"? It's stupid and lame.

    It's time to give up on the guy and look for an alternative.-sjw

    Woo Hooooooo!!!! Dennis Kucinich all the way baby. Or Ralph Nader. Or the Green Lantern. Let's all rally behind one of these three and show national Democrats we're not going to take it anymore.

  • Anonymous on September 03, 2011 8:53 AM:


    You nailed it. If Perry gets the primary, then our asses will be standing in the voting lines for hours to make sure he is not elected. He steals money from the taxpayers here in Texas like I drink water. Check this out:

  • Anonymous on September 03, 2011 8:58 AM:

    "My spousal unit offered this: "Maybe he's making space so that he can say no to the Tar Sands pipeline." Maybe, or maybe not. If I lived closer to Lafayette Park I'd be here today: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/"

    Your wife's a comedienne, right? After what just came out of the State Department and the statements from Stephen Chu, there's no chance in hell Obama's saying no to Keystone XL.

    We need to just get it through our heads: Obama's just a depressingly lame, hormoneless, limp-wristed, turn-the-other-cheek, no-fight Democrat. There is no supporter (or liberal issue) he won't stab in the back (or disavow) and there's no Republican he won't bend over for to prove his beloved "bipartisanship." I almost can't stand to look at the guy anymore.

    Sickeningly, we won't have any choice but to vote for him next year.

  • Live Free or Die on September 03, 2011 8:59 AM:

    I think Obama is a good man, but his advisers really are bad. We talk about how Republicans are sabotaging the economy for political gain. I think that one of his advisers is really a Republican and is sabotaging the WH from within. How else to explain the unexplainable. Someone is telling him, "You know what Mr. President, all you have to do is give the Republican exactly what they want, and it will take the issue off of the table". But then all it does is piss off his base and independents and embolden Republicans. I think we need to check how Tim Geinter voted over the past decade. Did he even vote for Obama? Someone from within is sabotaging Obama.

  • Brenna on September 03, 2011 9:10 AM:

    Live Free or Die - I don't buy it's his advisers. Obama has a mind, and from my own past experiences listening to him, he seems to have a good mind at that. Something else is going on, which I haven't figured out.

    I understand the republicans are blocking him from every angle. Taking away his power. But I've heard the advice if you're ever in a kidnap situation, start kicking and screaming. Don't get in the car with the bad guys. That's what I see Obama doing. Giving in to the kidnappers, the bad guys. He used to stand up to them.

    Something has happened to him.

  • FRP on September 03, 2011 9:14 AM:

    The phrase which sent the fatal chill , I think so and so is a good ... Or I have a lot of so and so's who are my friends .

    If you need advisors to tell you why you want to be President , what you would do to a creep who wants to hurt your family , or any other inanity which pops up from time to time as any juvenile will remind you , you need to focus on something less constituent based . People can forgive many things but not knowing viscerally what is what just ain't one of 'em .

  • Diana Decker on September 03, 2011 9:18 AM:

    From his statement: "Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered."

    Am I missing something here? Given Obama's recent success negotiating emission standards with the auto industry, might this not be a better, more airtight, legally defensible, long-view solution? I'm going to wait and see on this one.

  • RD Padouk on September 03, 2011 9:18 AM:

    I'm struggling with this as well. While I understand Obama's position, the politics of it looks terrible. But here's the thing. At some point I simply have to trust that the guy knows what he is doing. When I voted for Obama I was seeking an intelligent informed decision-maker who doesn't simply follow the playbook of his base. And this is exactly what I got.

  • berttheclock on September 03, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Perhaps the "Stockholm Syndrome" brings out his inner Everett Dirksen?

  • FRP on September 03, 2011 9:28 AM:

    The claim that Obama is making intelligent informed decisions who simply doesn't follow the playbook etc is a bit of ivory towering . The idea that you can limp through the 2012 elections and everything will take care of itself due to some massaging of calcified structures , fails to note how limping increases the time and focus of the getting to the point . The critical analysis of every micro managed detail becomes unwieldy in itself .
    The idea of a limping cruise into the election cycle becomes a rather unpoetical Odyssey .

  • yellowdog on September 03, 2011 10:01 AM:

    I don't like the decision, but I understand some of the politics at work.

    Triangulation is the term for liberals who selectively borrow some of the right's phrases and ideas and some of the popularity that goes with them. Bill Clinton had to differentiate himself from Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale somehow. This is the way he did it--after HRC's health care reform failure. Some Democrats now use the term triangulation as an epithet. They are quick to say that triangulation is just a new word for caving and selling out. They loathe Blue Dogs. In other parts of the Democratic fold, though, are the Clinton-model people. Obama is pretty close to them. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton got their early political educations working on the McGovern campaign in Texas, and then in state politics in conservative Arkansas. They saw liberals like Mondale and Dukakis go down in ugly electoral defeats. Centrist Democrats learned how to put states like Arkansas and Colorado and Florida in play for Democrats nationally. Supporters of triangulation observe that Bill Clinton was successfully reelected in 1996 and his VP won the popular vote in 2000. Something was working. "True" liberals, though, wonder if the Democratic Party has lost its way, if it will ever fight for what it believes in--if it believes in anything at all. This is an internal debate the party has been having since about 1968. There were not enough true liberals in the U.S. to make liberals like Mike Dukakis or Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern president. The numbers just were not there. They still aren't. The true liberals looked on the 2008 election as an epochal event--a time when the true-blue liberal vision would reassert itself across the party. The disappointment expressed so often and so vividly in the comments here and in the liberal blogosphere at large is that Obama turned out to be less blue than liberals hoped. He turned out to be willing to cut deals to get things done--and he has gotten quite a lot done. He has been much more of a triangulator than they expected. He promised hope and change--but to the bluest camp, he seems like an ambivalent liberal at best.

    When triangulation works, it yields electoral rewards (Bill Clinton in 1996). When it fails, it makes the candidate look weak and vacillating (like Kerry) and it plays right into the blunt-talking machismo or "straight talk" of the GOP candidate. (Nobody understands this better than Karl Rove.) Obama's hope here is that he can take the sting out of the Perry-Romney charge that rigid environmental rules are responsible for lack of jobs. And it is a formidable and frequent charge in those battleground states. It is an easy, though simplistic and flawed, explanation for unemployment. Put in new EPA regulations now and they become prime evidence of Obama's liberalism killing the economy--and that is exactly what the GOP needs--a clear narrative that makes Obama's policies responsible for all present economic troubles. Obama knows he's going to get pounded from the left for doing this. He also knows that more people will vote next year on the basis of the economy than the environment. (And he's put up some good environmental decisions to go with this bad one.)

    I am not saying this is a good policy decision or that this political logic will actually work. It is a political calculation. Liberals do not like it, but there are just fewer fellow-liberals in the land than we would like to believe. Political calculation is necessary under the circumstances.

  • FlipYrWhig on September 03, 2011 10:08 AM:

    Steve's premise is that Obama should have held this back as a bargaining chip to offer Republicans. Given that this was a rule about which several Democratic senators from "rust-belt" and energy-producing states had been complaining, who's to say it wasn't just used as a bargaining chip to offer Democrats? They have to be cajoled and stroked too.

    I don't know why so many people online act like The Democrats all agree on stuff, but then stab-in-the-back Obama throws it all away to impress Republicans. That's not at all what happens. He needs to scratch and claw to get _Democrats_ to move in his direction. And that's almost certainly what's happening here.

  • grunmann on September 03, 2011 10:14 AM:

    One thing about "work being underway" within the Clean Air Act - in a way, work is always under way within the Clean Air Act - must be done every 5 years - to check if information has come along to help decide if the standards set for ozone or particulates or sulfur dioxide, etc., remain protective of the public health.

    The last time EPA updated ozone information per these procedures, and set an ozone level of 84 ppb as safe for public health was 1997.

    Along about 2005-6, new information came along, suggesting that to be truly safe for public health, the ozone level ought to be in the 60-70 range.

    The Bush II administration sat on this information for a while, and then in 2008 then EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said - over an otherwise unanimous opinion of EPA's internal scientific advisory counsel - the new number shall be 75 ppb.

    That was the basis for the suit filed by the American Lung Association, and actually joined by some states.

    What Obama did yesterday was to simply punt the whole matter down the road for a few more years.

    Yes, there will be new data in 2013 or so. But the data since 2005 has said that the current ozone standard is too lax.

    From a standpoint of the public health meaning anything to this Administration, yesterday's decision to just punt is appalling.

  • Davis X. Machina on September 03, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Tester, Manchin, Casey, Sherrod Brown, Stabenow, and Webb's open Virginia seat. McCaskill as well.

    That's control of the Senate right there. Every one in a rust-belt and/or coal state. Most of the races are squeakers.

    This move came at the request of the DSCC.

  • glendenb on September 03, 2011 10:15 AM:

    There's a theory that argues that problems can be complex in three ways - socially, generatively and dynamically. Social complexity means people disagree about the core values, rationales, reasons and goals, dynamic complexity exists when cause and effect are far apart in time and space and generative complexity refers to being unable to predict the outcomes and in which the future is unfamiliar.

    What I see happening in American politics right now is a system grappling badly with problems that are complex on every axis. Both sides are trying to act as if things are predictable, as if the solutions are readily available. Both sides are acting as if the complexity either doesn't exist or can be ignored or reduced.

    When the administration makes this kind of decision, it's based in underestimating the level of social complexity - they keep acting as if they can invent common ground where none exists. The Republicans keep trying to find a single cause for the economic problems we face and offering solutions to that single cause. Both sides are steadfastly ignoring the people who are saying "Our circumstances are complex and require complex solutions" because that position undermines their assumptions and self-image.

    Many of the administrations caves to Republicans make sense to me as attempts to manage social complexity. But they've misread the generative complexity - outcomes are unpredictable but they keep trying tactics that would have worked in a setting in which outcomes were predictable, in which Republicans would have treated such actions as good faith efforts to find common ground and responded in kind. To mix my academic disciplines, Paul Krugman keeps pointing out that the economy is stuck in a liquidity trap in which normal monetary policies don't work right. Politically it's the same thing - the levels of complexity are such that the normal rules aren't applying.

  • Anonymous on September 03, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Walt: What ultimately would be the point of a second Obama term?

    If nothing else, it would give the GOP four more years in which to self destruct. If they run a rabid nut like Perry and lose, the party is going to go into an internal frenzy.

  • Josef K on September 03, 2011 10:52 AM:

    I confess from the outset I've no idea what the White House or the President were thinking in this case. But I also confess my feelings on this are compromised by personal concerns.

    Both my wife and son suffer from asthma, and these relaxed standards potentially put their lives at risk.

    I'll vote for President Obama next year. There is no acceptable alternative candidate on the horizon. But I will likewise use every opportunity to make myself heard to him on this, and do my damnest to make clear the human dimension of this that seems to be missing from both coverage and thinking.

    I agree with glendenb that these are all complex problems, but sometimes that complexity is trumped by the simplest consideration: is it going to kill people?

    Call me simpleminded, but that's my take.

  • TCinLA on September 03, 2011 11:10 AM:

    My spousal unit offered this: "Maybe he's making space so that he can say no to the Tar Sands pipeline."


    That is the Great Surrenderer's next step. "Keystone XL will create jobs." And of course he'll be right in step with the head-up-its-ass AFL-CIO, which is steadily pushing this (I'm sure the AFL-CIO could find something good in a program to establish death camps - "Lookit all them jobs!")

    I remember back in 1973, when there was a good chance to kill the San Onofre nuclear power plant on environmental grounds. One vote on the California Coastal Commission was all that was needed, and that vote was close to being convinced to vote "no." Until the head of the California AFL-CIO came to him and reminded him he wanted to run for a statewide office the next year, which wouldn't happen if he killed "35,000 jobs." Of course it turned out there weren't half that many jobs, but the vote was there and now 40 years later we have to figure out how to decommission that monster. That's how this stuff happens, and Democrats are easier to roll than Republicans.

    Get ready to buy bottled water all the time, all you folks living between the Appalachians and the Rockies.

    A guy I know who has been raising money for Obama at a huge clip said last weekend that "if he caves on this one, I've had it with him." Haven't had time to talk to him yet about the latest stab in the back, and it will be interesting to hear his response.

  • grunmann on September 03, 2011 11:12 AM:

    Interesting, well-written material about triangulation; not saying I agree with it all - but good food for thought.

    Also, as was pointed out - maybe the decision to punt didn't come from the Administration - maybe it came from the DSCC.

    And I think what it boils down to is that what used to work in the past is not going to work anymore.

    Basically, we really need some political organization that does not put the interests of Corporate America first.

    Because the interests of Corporate America lead to death.

    Of course, Corporate America will yowl about a "rigid environmental standard" - which per the law is supposed to be rigid because it is supposed to demonstrably show that it yields a value of safety for public exposure to a given priority pollutant.

    But, for what, the past 100 years, Corporate America has howled about unions, and the excessive wages that unions cause to be paid, and oh-my-god we've got to move the plant to another state, and we need tax breaks, and on the job safety rules cost us too much money, etc, etc.

    And we need somebody - some party - to say - STOP.

    As long as there was plenty of oil, politicians could kow tow to corporations, because this growth thing seemed to be going to go on forever.

    But it's not.

    The old approaches to dealing with a recession don't work because we're in an age of Peak Everything.

    Corporate America always tosses its "external costs" on to the land, the people - and so we come to a situation where we have a clear case that the ozone standard to try to be protective of public health is not being met - and the Corporate friendly politicians say "punt".

    The Senate is in play. So many Senators say "take this nasty environmental campaign issue away; I might lose".

    What they don't say to Corporate America is "shape up or I'll take your damn corporate charter away".

    We are in an age of mass extinctions. We are in an age of climate change, which has the power to bring this thing called civilization to its knees.

    What we need are leaders who recognize this, and who will stop treating Corporate America as the modern Golden Calf - a thing to be worshiped.

  • bardgal on September 03, 2011 11:54 AM:


    Of all the people who read this, you're the only one capable of seeing beyone the meme. Thank you.

    EVERYONE ELSE: Grow a vagina and calm the fuck down.

    So - you have a business that will be out of compliance and you will have to refit... refits like that might take anywhere from 1 to 2.5 years. The problem is, the report will be done in less than 18 months. You and most places will likely be in the middle of a refit that must be started over because the new study is likely to call for stricter standards. All that money you've just spent, (much of it government funded), wasted. President Obama saw that, and understood rightly, that money could do more good right now going to hurricane Irene victims, or creating jobs, etc...

    It's a postponement of less than 18 months. And it's the right thing to do.

    Everyone needs to go find their brains, put them back in your heads, and develop the skills to get past the GOPMedia telling you how you should wear your ObamaRage®.

  • SecularAnimist on September 03, 2011 12:45 PM:

    Obama's statement clearly and unequivocally embraced the Republicans' anti-regulatory frames and talking points, which are in fact blatantly false. Which Obama knows very well.

  • zeitgeist on September 03, 2011 1:27 PM:

    bardgal, in your haste to defend Obama you miss the point(s).

    Steve starts from the premise that there may be valid reasons for Obama to do this (one of which you point out). But Steve's point remains: given everything else on the job creation wishlist, why not learn from Republican tactics and use this to get a trade off?

    And as SecularAnimist points out, even if Obama had a reason in this specific instance for the change of direction, did he have to couch it in language that validates the Republican attack on regulation generally.

    Moreover, if he didn't figure out the problem before his administration put forth the new rule, that also is an unforced error - much like the speech timing, and reinforces the perceived pattern of (a) backing down from positions and nominees when he gets Republican pushback and (b) negotiating skills that are worse than those of the Republicans in terms of preemptively giving something up without getting anything in return.

    really, it is possible for Obama to do wrong. no matter how much one likes him.

  • SW on September 03, 2011 1:29 PM:

    they are just chickenshits. They have never seen a fight with Republicans that they wouldn't choose to run away from with their tail between their legs.

    By doing this they are essentially agreeing with Republican talking points that enforcing these regulations would destroy jobs. This is not true. It would shift jobs, with a net gain possible while saving lives. By being unwilling to make this fight they are proving themselves to lack conviction, to buy into their adversary's argument and betraying their allies. No guts, no brains, no wisdom. And a continuing erosion of support. This is an act of desperation. A sinking ship throwing ballast over board. Its getting very very ugly.

  • robert on September 03, 2011 1:34 PM:

    Keystone/Tar Sands Pipeline will be approved for the same pointless triangulating reasons that spawned this outrageously stupid and politically tone deaf slap in the face to environmentalists, public health community people like me who once believed in this guy and his team.

  • FlipYrWhig on September 03, 2011 2:04 PM:

    @ zeitgeist:

    even if Obama had a reason in this specific instance for the change of direction, did he have to couch it in language that validates the Republican attack on regulation generally.

    [SW makes a similar point above.]

    That is also the language preferred by coal-state Democrats, who, as Davis X. Machina has pointed out above, are crucial to holding the Senate and perhaps even to Obama's reelection. As a Democrat in the Rust Belt, you probably want to nip in the bud any suggestion that you sided with the liberal tree-huggers when your blue-collar constituents and home-state heavy-industries were taking a beating. To me this sounds very much like a sop to a segment of _Democrats_ -- as many of the "caves" attributed to Obama have been, despite the hype in the blogosphere.

  • bardgal on September 03, 2011 2:22 PM:


    TRADE OFF?????

    And if he had tried that, you would have said, "Will Obama ever learn you can't negotiate with rabid dogs??"

    spare me.

    As for "if he didn't figure out the problem before his administration put forth the new rule" you're assuming they could go into the future and could see how fast the study would end, and what that study would be pointing to.

    It's easy being an armchair quarterback when you don't have 30+ years of shit to clean up.

  • robert on September 03, 2011 2:23 PM:

    @zeigeist et al,

    Here's the thing, if all the major policy decisions are wrong, or at best Rethug Lite, I don't really give shit if Obama is re-elected. Sure we will get crap with whoever the other team nominates, but crap is crap and at least I will have the satisfaction of knowing I did not contribute to it by being deceived into voting for whoever that asshole may be. There simply comes a point where policy- and LIVES- matters more than politics. You savy?

  • PTate in MN on September 03, 2011 2:36 PM:

    grunmann: " And I think what it boils down to is that what used to work in the past is not going to work anymore....Basically, we really need some political organization that does not put the interests of Corporate America first."

    I agree 100%, but I'd like to add that the American people, the voters, are where the real change needs to happen. Thirty years of Republican misinformation and brilliant slogans ("tax and spend Democrats," "We can't afford it." "Jobs creators") and corporate marketing have created some odd notions in the minds of low-information voters. I don't think they really understand what it means to put the interests of Corporate American first. Many of them work for Corporate America, have good feelings about various companies and brands, and think that corporate America is where the jobs are created. They think of corporate America as clean, efficient, well-organized, hard-working and fair to employees. They think Disney, Viacom, GE, Monsanto, etc. are their friends.

    This particular decision is interesting politically. Since the low-information voters will never know about it, and the conservatives will never cease their Obama derangement, the only people really affected are progressives who will be once again frightened and discouraged by Obama.

    So what was the gain? I assume, if Obama adopted the proposed EPA rule, the conservatives would raise a ruckus about Obama "legislating" through regulation--the imperial, socialist mao-mao sympathizer jobs-killing, Big Brother president--and the shorter version of that frenzy ("Be afraid of Obama! He's not American!")would reach the moderates and influence them negatively. So I figure Obama is just playing it safe; by avoiding change through regulation, he sidesteps a favorite conservative shibboleth.

  • Davis X. Machina on September 03, 2011 2:48 PM:

    To me this sounds very much like a sop to a segment of Democrats

    Three words: Joe 'Nighthorse' Manchin.

  • Thymezone on September 03, 2011 2:53 PM:

    I'm a progressive Dem, so let's get that out of the way.

    I'm confused. When Republicans suggest using something as a bargaining chip in some kind of policy negotiations, they are "holding (insert chip stakeholders here) hostage." When Dems do it, they would be just .... bargaining.

    So, it's okay to hold the businesses and governments affected by pollution rules hostage in order to gain some advantage in a political fight ... over other things? Okay, I got that. Check.

    What I don't get is how the blogosphere manages to turn EVERY choice into a blather opportunity for discussions of the inner workings of President Obama's (and his team's) mind, and hand wringing over whether some multi-dimensional chess is being played, or played successfully, and how the particular choice will doom or not doom reelection chances ... blah blah blah blah. It's a bunch of silly nonsense. BS, to be blunt.

    And as a Dem, I refuse to be beholden to every left-inclined interest group on the planet. Every choice made by a government does not need to be a payoff to every environmental interest, or LGBT interest, or secular interest. And demagoguery and hyperbole from the left, to match that coming in a constant stream from the right, doesn't advance any cause held dear by the left. It just makes us look reactionary.

    An example is the absurd position now being taken by "environmentalists" that building a pipeline to bring Alaskan shale oil to the Gulf Coast will be "game over" for the environment because it "opens up" all that new carbon fuel opportunity. What a bunch of crap! As if a particular pipeline being built, or not, would seal off or unleash, by itself, the largest remaining oil deposits on earth from use in the coming period of thirst for a fungible energy commodity. One would have to be a moron, or seven years old, to believe a line like that. But there it is, being touted every day by worried-sounding "environmentalists" at every opportunity.

  • PTate in MN on September 03, 2011 3:05 PM:

    Robert: "Sure we will get crap with whoever the other team nominates, but crap is crap and at least I will have the satisfaction of knowing I did not contribute to it by being deceived into voting for whoever that asshole may be."

    I'm glad you have a forum here to express your frustration. But in your worldview, is there any room for the possibility that not all crap is created equal?

    Take for example, the difference in crap between Pres. Rick Perry and 2nd term Pres. Obama. The crap of one involves abolishing Social Security and Medicare, cutting taxes for billionaires and celebrating acts of aggression. The crap of the other may involve raising the age at which people can collect SS or Medicare, raising taxes on the super rich and seeking moderation. One has some silly economic ideas and hasn't challenged the narrative; the other is truly dangerous.

    By the way, you have an error in reasoning there. You contribute to the "crap" that goes down when you vote AND when you don't vote. There's no way to avoid responsibility; Consider the election of 2010. Doing nothing to stop the crazy let the crap happen. In the end, all we can do is vote for the lesser of two evils.

  • Jimo on September 03, 2011 3:18 PM:

    My thought exactly -- what was this concession traded for?


    Is there a Bob Woodward type who can report back to us what the inside dynamic is in the White House when Obama goes on one of his concession binges? Is he surrounded by Yes Men? Are aides afraid to contradict him? Do they literally grab his ankles to keep him from moving toward the microphone?

    Maybe someone should just ask Jay Carney: Jay, when the President unilaterally surrenders like he did before Labor Day on EPA regulations, are there any voices in the Oval Office begging him to at least trade his concession for something? Follow up: Do any White House aides believe the President is incompetent?

    (Sure, you'd probably be banned from any more WH briefings and publicly and privately scolded, but at least there'd be a question about something people are actually asking themselves.)

  • tko on September 03, 2011 3:22 PM:

    I was surprised to see Steve Benen slightly off his usual course by having an entire article highlighting Obama's latest capitulation. I was even more surprised at the level of dissatisfaction with Obama expressed in the comments. Greenwald has a good article about how the Bush-Obama transition changed nothing at the CIA. Steve will have to work all out to terrify us with the crazy ass Republicancers so that we'll vote for Obama. Unfortunately, the Republicancers are something to be afraid of in office. While the Republicancers are the party to make things worse, while Democrats stand by, the Democrats are the party of "business as usual" and hold no one accountable for their misdeeds. Makes me want to stay home on election day.

    Captcha is "tudingis solution". Must be what you wash your tudingis in.

  • robert on September 03, 2011 3:38 PM:


    Sure the 'crap' would be way worse with Perry, but the problem with your logic is that any Democratic President is endlessly free to ignore me and the rest of the liberal base in the endless effort to amass 'independent' and moderate Republican (all 15 or 20 of them) votes. Moreover, not to repeat myself, there comes a point of no return where I simply will not be satisfied with the 'yes but we are better than them' rationale. Obama can't excuse this awful decision (real CRAP) by pointing to the Republican House, or the thin majority in the Senate or any other 'process' based excuse. (The 18 month study is horse shit people. The study has been done, we don't need another one.)

    When do you say enough PTate? Reduction in SS benefits? Increase in the retirement age for working man and women who do physical labor and whose mean life span has not significantly increased (we still have a lot of those)? Well for me it is the environmental side of the policy agenda and frankly Obama's record was not that hot before this latest surrender.

    First things first: the EPA scientists concluded that 60 to 70 ppb saves lives. That should be my Presient's position now, not after he is safely re-elected.

  • imahapigirl on September 03, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Why can't Michele Bachmann just turn the economy around by use of prayer? LOL.. Anyway, what do we need clean air for? The Repubs are already well into their agenda of killing off (literally) the middle and poor classes. Take away SS , take away medicare, take away any program that remotely helps us to survive and we as a nation will literally start dying off. Except for the wealthy of course. Ever since the Repubs gained control of Congress everything we had gained and recouped since Obama took office has gone down the drain again... all thanks to the Repubs and their childish games. They are holding our country hostage for their own gains and it is a disgrace. As I wrote in an e-mail to Boehner and Bachmann I never voted straight ticket... always researched the candidates... but I can honestly say I will vote Democratic straight ticket from now on.

  • Anonymous on September 03, 2011 3:59 PM:

    And Thymezone,

    You are wrong about the Keystone pipeline (which it is now clear Obama will approve.) Without that market making project tar sands are not an economically feasible fuel source on a significant scale. Do some reading. With the pipeline it is, and James Hansen has said, 'game over' on climate change. Sorry to burst your little bubble, but there really are policy decisions that matter enough to make me, a life long liberal Democrat who worked in elections and held public office, say 'enough is enough'!

  • Thymezone on September 03, 2011 4:30 PM:

    @Anonymous, that makes no sense whatsoever. You are suggesting that a country sitting on the largest remaining oil inventory on earth is going to walk away from it because a particular administration won't build it a pipeline to the Gulf. The pipeline, like every other aspect of the problem set, is just a feature, or bug, of the price of oil at any given moment. When oil gets precious enough, shale oil will be on the market. Period. Are you really going to sit there and assert that lack of near term access to the Gulf is going to permanently seal off these shale oil deposits from the world markets? That the posture of the United States, in the coming energy feeding frenzy, will be to just stand with a finger in the dike in the face of skyrocketing demand and oil prices because environmentalists will succeed in making that happen?

    Right, and tax cuts create jobs. It's no wonder people detest environmentalists, they are such liars. It's BS like this that gives climate change deniers the ammunition they need to prop up their counter-lies. Write me back when oil is selling at $200 a barrel and gasoline in the US is selling at $7. Price is the final arbiter in a commodity market. Nothing else matters ultimately. Failure to understand that is why enviromentalists are called tree huggers.

    If you want to push back against carbon in the atmosphere, you have come up with an alternative to carbon in the atmosphere and advance that. Not stand in front of the carbon convoy.

  • NY Expat on September 03, 2011 4:57 PM:

    "Sickeningly, we won't have any choice but to vote for him next year."

    Just as long as we all understand that, we can bitch about Obama all we like. Let's try to remember, while many of us are holding our noses, that a weak Obama is a creation of the current GOP in Congress.

    Did I hate Obama's decision here? Absolutely--very disappointed. Will I vote for him in the next election? In a NY minute.

  • Thymezone on September 03, 2011 5:10 PM:


    Yeah, that's sickening all right. Look, Since Lyndon Johnson, and until Barack Obama, Dems have had two presidents who served for 12 of the 40 years. The current Dem president has done more for liberal causes in less than 3 years than the previous two Dems did in 12 years, and specifically delivered two huge progressive advances, ACA and the end of DADT, which the previous "rock star" Dem fucked up royally and almost permanently.

    But yeah, because this same Dem has kicked a can down the road a couple years in the face of a looming economic and political disaster, let's all pile on. Honestly, you guys deserve to lose, now and forever. Luckily you probably won't because cooler heads will prevail.

  • Anonymous on September 03, 2011 6:52 PM:

    What did voters in California choose last fall when confronted with a proposition overturning its "global warming initiative" until unemployment went below 5.5%? They went with keeping the global warming initiative in place, 61.6% to 38.4%. I have no idea whether the public in the rest of the country has California's good sense, but I don't know why they wouldn't have it. After all, there's not much use to having a job if the air you breathe will harm you, if not kill you.

    If the proposed standards were insufficient for safeguarding the public interest, Obama should have rolled some heads in the epa in announcing his decision to re-review the rules in 2013. Instead, he simply kicked the proverbial hot potato down the road for political expediency ala the Bush era tax rate extensions push back until 2012. Sure, he has cover in the latest payroll data that might play with some people, but I doubt if it's the kind of trade-off that plays with the majority of people. Besides, what's left unsaid is what standard of unemployment would have been acceptable for Obama to have gone with the new regulations?

    For sure Californians weren't waiting for 5.5% unemployment to come its way to keep moving to a better future by not swallowing phoney equivalencies. Obama's inability to link his proposed environmental standards with a stimulus like push to affected companies as well as hard pressed state and local governments and also tax reform is simply baffling, reminding us once again of the small mindset and vision of the Obama White House, sort of like the poeple who approve of Captcha.

  • PTate in MN on September 03, 2011 8:49 PM:

    Robert: "the problem with your logic is that any Democratic President is endlessly free to ignore me and the rest of the liberal base in the endless effort to amass 'independent' and moderate Republican (all 15 or 20 of them) votes....When do you say enough...?"

    Yeah, I understand. That IS the tactical question. We vote for Democrats because the alternative is so much worse, but then they ignore us. It's a vicious cycle.

    I will vote for Obama in an instant because I see no alternative in 2012. There is not going to be a primary challenge, and we simply cannot afford to lose the WH to a Republican. But it is also clear to me is that liberals like me need to start making the Democratic wing of the Democratic party heard again without hurting ourselves in the process. Maybe the tar sands protests at the WH will catalyze the loyal opposition. Or the Democrats in Wisconsin under Scott Walker's thuggish administration. But, yeah, we've got to do something.

  • bardgal on September 03, 2011 10:06 PM:


    To make the Demoratic wing of the Democratic party heard again, how about all dems NOT stay home in a snit, and we send a Progressive ARMY to DC in 2012 to have the POTUS' back.

    As for all of whiners who say "Obama is just as bad as any GOP.." WTF?
    Because all the GOP candidates wouldn't repeal the seond they take the oath:
    - ACA (Obamacare - if it's such a "Gift" to the Insurance Industry, why are they spending billions to repeal it???)
    - DADT
    - FInancial reform
    - The Consumer FInaincial Protection Bureau
    - the EPA
    - FEMA
    - Stem Cell research funding
    - reproductive choice
    etc x infinity.... AM I RIGHT??

    And above all things - a minimum of THREE SCOTUS appointments between now and 2017. I'd much rather have President Obama making those appointments than ANY GOP POTUS EVER.

    And no - not voting doesn't give you a pass. You will still have blood on your hands, just as you are responsible for the TeaNightmare we have now because you sat on your ass in 2010.

  • Spring Texan on September 04, 2011 7:20 AM:

    To all you Obama supporters -- I don't agree with you on the merits, but regardless, Obama CANNOT WIN. He is digging his own grave because NO president can probably be re-elected with those unemployment numbers, and CERTAINLY no president can be re-elected with those unemployment numbers who is perceived as WEAK and a LOSER -- which he is.

    Since Obama can't in reality win, you'd better get busy persuading him NOT to run again for office. It's the only way we won't have a Republican in office.

  • PTate in MN on September 04, 2011 9:39 AM:

    bardgal: agree 100%. The first thing we can do, must do, is not to stay home in 2012 (and no "symbolic" votes for third party candidates. United we stand, divided we fall.) One thing that really impressed me about the Tea Partiers--delusional right wingers that they are--was how they managed to make themselves heard in such a short time. I know the Koch funding and the Fox news propaganda helped, but even so...

    But starting now, we need to identify and groom progressive candidates to run in every district in the USA. I was told the other day about MN's 8th district which should be a shoo-in for a Dem in 2012. It has voted DFL since 1947, but in 2010, elected Tea Party upstart Chip Cravaack (whose wife and family promptly moved to NH.) What I have heard is that the 8th district Dems are having trouble recruiting someone to challenge Cravaack. It would be appalling for Cravaack to win a second term because the Dems couldn't field a viable candidate.

    So on the one hand, we need to vote DFL, and on the other, we need to field better DFL candidates.

  • robert on September 04, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Read the last paragraph of this story. The President is making decisions today that will make it harder-much harder- to re-elect him because of his fundamental and extremely cynical calculation that we- the liberal base- will vote for him no matter what the fuck he does on a whole range of issues. I'm a life long active liberal Democrat so I will vote for him that's true, but screw him and the horse he rode in on if he thinks I will send him money or work for him if he continues to play me on important policy decisions for these stupid pointless efforts to appease people who will NEVER support him.

    As for Tar Sands/Keystone; he will make the same mistake again, count on it.

    September 3, 2011
    Stung by the President on Air Quality, Environmentalists Weigh Their Options
    For environmental groups, it was the final hard slap that brought a long-troubled relationship to the brink.

    In late August, the State Department gave a crucial go-ahead on a controversial pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Then on Friday, leading into the holiday weekend, the Obama administration announced without warning that it was walking away from stricter ozone pollution standards that it had been promising for three years and instead sticking with Bush-era standards.

    John D. Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group based in New York, likened the ozone decision to a “bomb being dropped.”

    Mr. Walke and representatives of other environmental groups saw the president’s actions as brazen political sellouts to business interests and the Republican Party, which regards environmental regulations as job killers and a brick wall to economic recovery.

    The question for environmentalists became, what to do next?

    “There is shock and chaos here,” Mr. Walke said, “so I do not know. I can’t answer that question.” But he added that his group would resume a smog lawsuit against the government that it had dropped because it had been lulled into believing that this administration would enact tougher regulations without being forced to do so by the courts.

    Political analysts watching the Obama administration’s pullback from the environmental agenda this past month say that in the current climate there is little chance that environmentalists or their allies will ever side with the Republicans. After all, the Republican-led House of Representatives has been aggressively moving to curtail protections for endangered species and regulations for clean air and water, and most of the Republican presidential candidates have been intensely critical of any government effort to address climate change.

    Still, they say, the president could face political repercussions in subtler but nevertheless corrosive ways: from losing volunteer enthusiasm to tying up his allies in fights with him instead of with his enemies.

    “Energy from part of the base will now be directed at communicating with the White House and not with the public about the administration’s record,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group with close ties to the White House.

    And Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a five-million-member online progressive political organization that played a significant role in President Obama’s election in 2008, said he was sure that his members would be deflated.

    “How are our members in Ohio and Florida who pounded the pavement in 2008 going to make the case for why this election matters?” Mr. Ruben said. “Stuff like this is devastating to the hope and passion that fuels the volunteers that made the president’s 2008 campaign so unique and successful.”

    Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, who does extensive work on public perception and the environment, said the real threat to the president’s reputation stemming from the ozone decision went far beyond environmentalists.

    “It could play into an emerging narrative in his own party that he is caving too quickly to Republican pressure,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. “It is a dangerous narrative in your own base because it cuts down on enthusiasm and it is a narrative that his opponents will pick up on.”

    In fact, it is a lesson that some environmental groups have already learned, and they are preparing to act accordingly.

    “I think that two-plus years into Obama’s presidency is more than enough time for him to have established a clear weak record,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been battling the president on endangered species.

    “The environmental movement needs to keep piling the pressure on and realizing playing nicey-nice won’t work,” Mr. Suckling said, adding that more public actions and lawsuits are the way to get Mr. Obama’s attention.

    His is not the only group going this way, but so far it is unclear that protests are being heard.

    All last week across the street from the White House, Bill McKibben, a founder of 350.org, a grass-roots organization that advocates limiting carbon emissions, staged demonstrations to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring the tar sands oil from Canada.

    As of Friday, Mr. McKibben said, more than a thousand people had been arrested in the previous days of protest, including Obama campaign staff members from 2008. Yet, he said of the White House, “we heard not one word from them.”

    One of those former campaign workers who was arrested was Courtney Hight, who was the youth vote director in Florida in 2008. She offered an explicit warning: “If the president decides not to permit the pipeline, he will reignite the enthusiasm many of my friends and I felt in 2008. But if he approves it, it is just human nature that the disappointment will sap the enthusiasm that drove us to work so hard last time.”

  • Rueben Scott on September 04, 2011 1:10 PM:

    It seems to me that any regulation that costs billions to enact and billions to function is not a good deal. If it is a possible bargaining chip, then if companies do not regulate themselves, then let the govt. file a suit and reainact the proposed rules. Billion dollar regulations don't make sense these days.

  • Robert on September 05, 2011 11:43 AM:

    Bull Shit Rueben. Take those Republican talking points to some other blog.

    "But many experts say that the effects should be assessed through a nuanced tally of costs and benefits that takes into account both economic and societal factors. Some argue that the costs can be offset as companies develop cheaper ways to clean up pollutants, and others say that regulation is often blamed for job losses that occur for different reasons, like a stagnant economy. As companies develop new technologies to cope with regulatory requirements, some new jobs are created.

    What’s more, some economists say, previous regulations, like the various amendments to the Clean Air Act, have resulted in far lower costs and job losses than industrial executives initially feared."