I had an elderly relative who used to say, "We have to give due where due is due". Of course she meant "credit where credit is due", but she was so old and so engaging, that instead of ever correcting her, I often imitated her mangled remark. I thought of her last week when President Obama, standing firm, backed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into a corner and essentially forced his hand in extending tax cuts and unemployment insurance for two more months. Boehner and his Tea Party colleagues were insisting on a one-year deal, but the Senate had passed a two month deal because they could only identify enough funds to pay for two months of extension. Senate Democrats and Republicans had agreed to come back and find money for the rest of the year, but the House drew a hard line that they eventually had to soften. Bottom line - President Obama went to Hawaii to celebrate Christmas with a victory under his belt. House Speaker John Boehner went home with a lump of coal in his stocking.
I am not gloating on the President's behalf. When folks come back in January, there will be a rough row to hoe. Boehner is probably angry, and he is certainly embarrassed, and that won't incent him to compromise as Congress grapples with ways to keep the extension alive. At the same time, so many are so critical of President Obama that I want to pause to give due where due is due. In other words, all of the people who have talked about ways he has betrayed the working class should just stop for a minute and say, "he pulled this one through".
The stakes were high. 160 million people would have seen their January paychecks drop. For some $40 or so might not make much of a difference. For others, it is a matter of survival. Additionally, some whose unemployment benefits were expiring wouldn't see a check at all come February. Now, they are protected, at least for a couple of months. President Obama was right to stand firm. And he ought to be celebrated for it.
Too often, to be sure, our President has seemed to choose compromise over principle. With so many Americans out of work, and with us not quite out of the woods on the recession (we desperately need people to spend money to make our economy hum), this time he simply stuck to principle. It's a good thing, and it is something to celebrate. As the stalemate between Congress and the President went on, we say the American people saying the same thing. President Obama's approval ratings began to tick up, while Congress had an approval rating of something under 10 percent.
The visuals were also telling. Congressional Republicans ran out of Washington like rats leaving a sinking ship. They were going home for Christmas, resolution or not. They left Boehner and a handful of aides to try to work something out. There was an interesting pictorial contrast - at the beginning of last week, there stood Boehner, surrounded by a coterie of Congressional representatives, sounding and seeming firm and saying they would not compromise. At the end of the week, there was Boehner, all alone at the mike, surrounded by no one, conceding to President Obama.
While Republicans were racing home, President Obama said he would not leave Washington until there was a deal. He sent his family to Hawaii ahead of him. He hunkered down. And he won.
To be sure, this is a small victory. There ought not be dancing in the streets, nor firecrackers at dawn. But it is an opportunity to give due where due is due, to hope that President Obama's New Year's resolution is "more of the same". Despite the data that suggest that we are creating more jobs, and the data that suggest that recovery is around the corner, the reality is that millions are stuck in the economic periphery and even two months of relief will help them. Now, the challenge will be to make these extension last a full year.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.