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New year, old battles and an upcoming year of more of the same (only worse)

It’s great to be off to a fresh start in politics, isn’t it? Out with the old; in with the new.

Barack Obama is in the fourth quarter of his presidency but he’s not going out quietly. Politically liberated by his lame-duck status, he’s gone on the policy offensive, exercising his executive authority in bold ways. Congressional Republicans are countering with their own plans to reaccelerate deportations, deny anthropogenic climate change and prolong the isolation between Cuba and the U.S.

Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Bibi Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the dangers of conducting multilateral nuclear diplomacy with Iran is a particularly bold move. I guess we can forget about the old standard that our political differences end at the water’s edge and the president is in charge of foreign policy. The Boehner gambit looks to me like a sop to Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who spent $150 million in campaign 2012 and squired Mitt Romney around the right-wing salons of Jerusalem. Adelson also publishes Israel Hayom, a hawkish free daily that is destroying the newspaper marketplace in Israel, and is known as a shill for Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, concern about income inequality has become a fashionable new position among national Republicans. Mitt Romney has joined Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul – even John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on “60 Minutes” – in criticizing Obama’s failure to stem the 40-year capture of American economic growth by the one percent. I guess you have to embrace the irony. Maybe their faith that the American electorate is too scared, angry or befuddled to unravel this bit of political jujitsu will be vindicated.

In Lansing, détente didn’t survive committee assignments. New Speaker Kevin Cotter punked House Democrats on their choice for a minority vice-chair for Appropriations, and established that he’s had it with “politics.” Mr. Cotter has demonstrated that he’s firmly in charge and Democrats should get accustomed to capitulation, not compromise.

On the Senate side of the Capitol, Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has resumed his quest to eliminate Michigan’s prevailing wage law. In his calculus, downward pressure on working people’s wages is good for the economy, and he, for one, doesn’t appear to be perturbed by income inequality. Besides, repealing prevailing wage has great symbolic importance to his west Michigan patrons in their crusade to annihilate unions. Gov. Snyder has said prevailing wage isn’t on his agenda, but we’ve heard that before.

Snyder tried his hand at poetry with his River of Opportunity allusion in his State of the State address. Until evidence shows otherwise, I guess we have to take him at his word that this reinvention is all about better serving Michiganders who need assistance to build a better life. Still, there is some suspicion that this reinvention is more a mechanism to pay for those corporate tax credits that have blown a nasty hole in the State’s budget.

The governor’s relentless positivism looked a little silly when he described the sales tax ballot initiative as “a lot of smart people’s” idea for how to fix the roads. That’s a real stretch. You’d have to do some real scheming to come up with a more regressive funding mechanism. The alternative plan that was based on an indexed wholesale fuel tax would have done much better on the smart-policy index at this time of almost unbelievably low gas prices. The proposal that’s going to the ballot is the best that could be negotiated with Republican ideologues who don’t care what Business Leaders for Michigan, or anybody but the conservative roots and their funders, thinks. If the early polling means anything, the proposal is in serious trouble, if not stillborn.

Snyder has a challenge much like Barack Obama's: How do you get a contemporary Republican legislative body enthused to do anything besides shrinking government until you can drown it in the bathtub? Tax cuts will not induce industry to invest, hire and grow. Only demand in the economy will do that. Expansionary fiscal policy – overdue investment in basic research, education and infrastructure - is precisely what this fragile recovery needs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be in the playbook of legislating Republicans in Washington or in Lansing.

Word out of Palm Springs is that Charles Koch and 300 of his wealthiest confederates are going to raise $900 million for campaign 2016 to combat “collectivism.” That buys a lot of influence with politicians, and a lot of viewers’ eyeballs. Does that make you eager for this next chapter of American political life?

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