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Reaching for a New Deal

Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama's First Two Years

Theda Skocpol
Lawrence R. Jacobs
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Reaching for a New Deal
    Book Description:

    During his winning presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to counter rising economic inequality and revitalize America’s middle-class through a series of wide-ranging reforms. His transformational agenda sought to ensure affordable healthcare; reform the nation’s schools and make college more affordable; promote clean and renewable energy; reform labor laws and immigration; and redistribute the tax burden from the middle class to wealthier citizens. The Wall Street crisis and economic downturn that erupted as Obama took office also put U.S. financial regulation on the agenda. By the middle of President Obama’s first term in office, he had succeeded in advancing major reforms by legislative and administrative means. But a sluggish economic recovery from the deep recession of 2009, accompanied by polarized politics and governmental deadlock in Washington, DC, have raised questions about how far Obama’s promised transformations can go. Reaching for a New Deal analyzes both the ambitious domestic policy of Obama’s first two years and the consequent political backlash—up to and including the 2010 midterm elections. Reaching for a New Deal combines probing analyses of Obama’s domestic policy achievements with a big picture look at his change-oriented presidency. The book uses struggles over policy changes as a window into the larger dynamics of American politics and situates the current political era in relation to earlier pivotal junctures in U.S. government and public policy. It offers invaluable lessons about unfolding political transformations in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-711-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics
    (pp. 1-50)
    Theda Skocpol and Lawrence R. Jacobs

    “TheNewNew Deal—What Barack Obama can learn from F.D.R.—and what Democrats need to do” was the feature story in theTimemagazine of November 24, 2008, which hit the newsstands soon after the historic 2008 elections. The striking cover portrayed a grinning Obama wearing a fedora and riding in an open car, a cigarette in a long silver holder jutting from his lips. The image nicely suggested that the newly elected president might be able to propel a shift in U.S. governance and politics comparable to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first New Deal in the 1930s....

  5. PART I Legislative Landmarks

    • Chapter 2 Hard-Fought Legacy: Obama, Congressional Democrats, and the Struggle for Comprehensive Health Care Reform
      (pp. 53-104)
      Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol

      The words were those of Barack Obama, junior senator from Illinois, delivered at a Las Vegas issues forum early in the prolonged Democratic Party primary process of the 2008 presidential election (Obama 2007, 18). The forum was cosponsored by the Service Employees International Union, a key blue-collar organization, and the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank preparing plans for the next Democratic president—underlining that health care reform is a long-running Democratic priority for elites and grass roots alike.

      Starting with Harry Truman’s crusade for “compulsory” universal health insurance at the end of World War II, Democratic presidents...

    • Chapter 3 Eliminating the Market Middle-Man: Redirecting and Expanding Support for College Students
      (pp. 105-138)
      Suzanne Mettler

      “Throughout our history, education has been at the heart of a bargain this nation has made with its citizens: If you work hard and take responsibility, you’ll have a chance for a better life.” Writing these words in his bookThe Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama asserted that investments in education offer the most promising way the United States can grow more competitive in the global economy and “modernize and rebuild the social compact that FDR first stitched together in the middle of the last century” (2006, 159). Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama continually stressed the need to make...

    • Chapter 4 The Contest of Lobbies and Disciplines: Financial Politics and Regulatory Reform
      (pp. 139-188)
      Daniel Carpenter

      On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Dodd-Frank Act—so named after its two congressional cosponsors, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd and Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank—represents the most sweeping overhaul of financial regulations in the United States since the New Deal. More so than the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the so-called stimulus package, the Dodd-Frank Act represents the Obama administration’s main structural attack on the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed it. And, compared with Obama’s health care reform package, the...

  6. PART II Change through Regulation and Administrative Action

    • Chapter 5 The Unsurprising Failure of Labor Law Reform and the Turn to Administrative Action
      (pp. 191-229)
      Dorian T. Warren

      In late April 2010 the giant banner adorning the corner of the AFL-CIO headquarters that faces the White House was abruptly taken down.¹ The banner supporting organized labor’s most important legislative priority—labor law reform known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—had been up since the January 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as president, a little over a year.² Of course, the labor movement’s long-time organizational nemesis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cheerily noted the banner’s removal (U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2010a).³ This unfurling of the EFCA banner symbolized the failure, yet again, of the American labor movement...

    • Chapter 6 Surprising Momentum: Spurring Education Reform in States and Localities
      (pp. 230-270)
      Lorraine M. McDonnell

      The federal government, as the junior partner with neither constitutional authority for elementary and secondary education nor a major role in its financing, has increasingly leveraged its limited resources by requiring that states and local school districts move in particular policy directions to obtain federal funds. The Obama administration has strengthened that leverage to an unprecedented level by including consistency with federal priorities as a basis for ranking states in the competition for education stimulus funds. With no assurance that they would receive any Race to the Top funding, seventeen states changed their laws to allow student test scores to...

  7. PART III Failed Bargains and Intensifying Conflict

    • Chapter 7 Obama’s Immigration Reform: A Tough Sell for a Grand Bargain
      (pp. 273-320)
      John D. Skrentny

      The United States has always been a nation of immigrants, but in the twenty-first century, the policy debate is about becoming a nation of illegal immigrants. President Obama promised “comprehensive immigration reform,” but he will be judged on how he handled illegal immigration. The challenge is a daunting one. Members of Congress thought they had successfully dealt with it a quarter of a century ago, but the demographic statistics—as well as the legislative record since then—tell a very different story.

      The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that about 10.8 million foreigners live in the United States without...

    • Chapter 8 Cold Front: How the Recession Stalled Obama’s Clean-Energy Agenda
      (pp. 321-385)
      Judith A. Layzer

      In January 2009 President Obama took office promising to restore prosperity and reduce American dependence on foreign oil by converting the United States from a fossil-fuel to a clean-energy economy. In many respects, the country appeared ripe for such a transformation: Obama was extraordinarily popular; public support for addressing energy and climate change was strong; environmentalists were unified; industry was divided and many prominent CEOs advocated limits on greenhouse-gas emissions; and the conservative opposition was beleaguered. Initially, at least, events seem to bear out the predictions of optimistic pundits: following a frenzied push by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,...

    • Chapter 9 Paying America’s Way: The Fraught Politics of Taxes, Investments, and Budgetary Responsibility
      (pp. 386-422)
      Andrea Louise Campbell

      Candidate Barack Obama made startling and politically courageous promises to reorient taxing and spending in the United States. He sought to turn Republican tax politics on its head, raising taxes on the politically powerful affluent and devoting the money to enhanced economic security for ordinary Americans, such as health care reform, and to greater investments in human and physical capital, such as education and infrastructure. And taxes were due on the agenda, thanks to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Between Obama’s great popularity and apparent public support for raising taxes on the wealthy, the boldest plans in decades...

  8. Index
    (pp. 423-448)