Cooper says Obama best choice to reform America

Friday, July 18, 2008 at 3:34am
Despite substantial policy differences, fiscally conservative Rep. Jim Cooper says Sen. Barack Obama best choice to reform entitlement spending, America

While both are Democrats and Harvard Law graduates, Jim Cooper and Barack Obama don’t share many similarities.

Cooper is a fiscally conservative congressman representing Nashville and Obama, by Cooper’s own admission, has “sterling liberal credentials” hailing from Chicago, serving as Illinois senator and heading the Democratic ticket.

Stylistically, Obama packs arenas with his soaring oratory, inspiring millions. Conversely, Cooper employs a quick wit while training his spectacles on line items in the federal budget in his ongoing quest to trim wasteful spending.

Policy-wise, the gulf between the two is almost as wide, especially on fiscal issues.

For example, unlike Obama, Cooper thinks the likely Democratic presidential nominee’s Social Security plan is “way too specific” and “way too premature,” his trade policies too “protectionist” and Obama’s opposition to expanded offshore drilling “mistaken.”

Yet, for all of their differences, the conservative fiscal hawk Cooper thinks a President Obama is the only one who could fix Washington and its spendthrift ways.

“Opposites attract in politics, like only Nixon could go to China,” Cooper said this week, recalling the strident anti-communist president’s trip to China. “Well probably only a liberal and an African-American could reform runaway entitlement program spending. Now there’s no guarantee of that, but I don’t see a Republican doing it.”

Cooper’s fiscal reputation and fervent support for Obama has even spurred some speculation that Cooper would be considered for a position in an Obama administration, possibly as budget director — something Cooper for now is downplaying.

Early supporter

Cooper was one of Obama’s earliest Congressional supporters, backing him in May 2007 when Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) appeared to be the Democrats’ inevitable presidential pick.

Cooper said his first extended discussion with Obama occurred in January 2007, which left him with a “very positive impression.” He wasn’t sure, however, if Obama could raise money or run an efficient campaign.

But by May, he was convinced. His choice was aided, as Cooper acknowledges, through what he knew of Hillary Clinton. In the 1990s, Clinton and Cooper’s relationship ran aground over competing health care reform plans in the early days of her husband’s administration.

“Part of that was (Obama’s) own intelligence and ability but part of it was also my familiarity with Hillary Clinton,” Cooper said of his Obama endorsement. “The combination convinced me that Barack was by far the best choice for the party.”

In June 2007, Cooper organized a Nashville fund-raiser for Obama, one of the few times the Illinois senator has trekked to Tennessee. On the flight back, Cooper had time alone with Obama where he saw that Obama was “as intelligent as Bill Clinton is” but “much more disciplined.”

Policy differences

On Capitol Hill, Cooper is one of the most disciplined — and conservative Democrats — when it comes to fiscal issues. He’s a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats.

Fiscal issues are where Cooper parts ways with Obama on policies ranging from oil exploration to the Bush tax cuts and Social Security.

Whether a President Obama would need Cooper and other Blue Dog Democrats’ support depends on the size of the Democrats’ majority in Congress, said Nathan Gonzales, the political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter in Washington, D.C.

“If they have a sizeable advantage then that would allow Democrats to push their legislative agenda and allow some moderate members to vote against legislation and so in effect still get their legislation out there,” Gonzales said. “If their majority is more narrow, then Obama and Nancy Pelosi are going to need those Blue Dogs on votes to get the legislation through.”

As president, Obama would repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.

Obama also has backed increasing the capital gains tax on investments from its current 15 percent to as high as 28 percent, the level during Clinton’s administration.

In addition, addressing Social Security’s solvency, Obama would raise the income cap for the retirement program’s payroll tax, placing a new levy on annual incomes higher than $250,000. Currently, income taxable for Social Security is capped at $102,000.

While Obama espouses these policies, Cooper is against them all, saying that he’s not supportive of tax increases until wasteful spending is curbed.

“I wouldn’t do it if I were he, but I’m not the Democratic nominee,” Cooper said. “I think in general we need to restore faith in government. The best way to do that is to show them you’re serious about cutting out the waste because nobody that I meet wants to pay more taxes, rich or poor, and they all are suspicious of government, often with good reason.”

Obama has said he would work to halt wasteful spending. On taxes, Obama also favors eliminating income taxes for seniors earning $50,000 or less and cutting taxes for the middle class.

Besides differing on taxes, Cooper splits with Obama on some energy issues. The Nashville Congressman favors expanded offshore drilling for oil, which Obama opposes and Republican nominee John McCain recently changed positions to embrace. Cooper is also against a windfall profits tax on big oil, which Obama favors.

On the pressing issue of trade, Cooper says Obama’s positions are too “protectionist.” He believes renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement — as Obama backs — would be a “mistake” and argues the Colombia free trade agreement needs to be inked because it makes “no sense” for Colombia to have free access to American markets but not vice-versa.

Cooper thinks some of Obama’s positions reflect a senator’s mindset and not a president’s.

“America is a marvelously diverse country, and Illinois is a fine state, but it’s not America,” Cooper said. “So at some point before he’s sworn in as president, he needs to think like a president and not a senator and that’s one reason you’ve seen so few senators ever elected president.”

Obama the change candidate

Despite these differences, Cooper thinks Obama is the man to change a Washington and curb the influence of special interests who fervently protect spending programs benefiting them in the federal budget.

The two main entitlement programs Cooper often references — Medicare and Social Security — need reform, he says, and Obama’s “liberal credentials” are what is needed to get the job done.

“I’m pretty darn conservative,” Cooper said. “But that’s why moderates and conservatives like me can enthusiastically support Barack.”

Staying where he is

Cooper is enthusiastically backing Obama and would lend his administration a conservative fiscal voice, but the Nashville Democrat who once wanted to be in the U.S. Senate says he’s lost his ambition.

He’s not interested in serving as a President Obama’s budget director, saying “virtually” all special interests would oppose him because “I’d cut too much.”

Cooper’s staying in the House, figuring a President Obama would need him there.

“I tell you he needs a lot of help here,” Cooper said. “We have to have a balanced voice in Congress so it’s not just all liberals all the time.”

That would put Cooper and Obama on opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, a variance the two markedly different Democrats are accustomed to.

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By: 2476 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It is a sad day for this country when we have politicians such as these two. Barack has a total of 141 days of experience to run this great country of ours. But we have individuals who are willing to turn it over to him to run.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This article shows what a party hack cooper is. Before the last election he promised not to vote for Polosi as speaker as many knew what she was but did it anyway.Obama is a lefty socialist tax and spend man that has no concept of what we have to do for our national security and sees nothing wrong with the high gas prices except they went up to quickly.He has absoulutely no experience in the real world? Community organizer you say? Al Sharption is one of those.For those of you that are lost like me the comment link is at the top right of the article.

By: Jokapsig on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Blue Dog as he is made out to be, and I somewhat applaud his conservative stance on issues, he is still a Democrat and probably a yellow dog to boot. So did you really expect he would vote for anybody else but Obama?

By: shinestx on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What do you expect Jim Stupor to say? He's a do-nothing disgrace to this district, but the idiotic Dim electorate here outnumber the independents and Republicans. So hope you like not having your light rail, your courthouse, your share of the federal highway funds for our outdated roads. Geez, and he looks like the kid in the movie "Mask

By: frogmild on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If this is an example of Cooper's thinking it's a great indication Cooper needs to be retired. How can someone disagree with most of a candidates positions but still support him, except to put the party above the country. Cooper knows Obama has no experience to do anything other than talk and he can barely do that unless it's on a teleprompter. A naive socialist who has never done anything but smoke dope and take government money iscertainly not what this country needs. A taxpayer voting for Obama is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.

By: BenDover on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This just illustrates the danger of even voting for and supporting middle of the road democrats when their leadership is politically to the left of Karl Marx.

By: revo-lou on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Let’s see, Bush II had some experience, but that didn’t seem to do us, or him, any good. Obama has been a US Senator since 2005, so the “experience” you have counting hasn’t done us, or you, any good. That people within a group disagree is a given, what is the point of concern with this? The political parties are in place to SUPPORT the candidates, DUH! You know, like Bush II is supporting McCain, much to his chagrin no doubt.Just get used to it, go and build your bunkers, and stop worrying about what you can’t keep from happening.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

FORD GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BTW Thanks NCP for giving us back that which wasn't broken.(the opinion box)

By: Funditto on 12/31/69 at 6:00

except now it's at the top of the page so you don't even have to read what anyone else wrote...

By: webmaster on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Funditto: Reload the page (cmd- or ctrl- r) and you will see the comment box again (and no link at the top).

By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The only reason I'm voting for Obama is because he is sooooo cute. The rest of that political mess doesn't mean anything to me because my life is going to be fabulous regardless of who is in office.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

By: NewYorker1 on 7/18/08 The only reason I'm voting for Obama is because he is sooooo cute. lol

By: abrahamlincoln on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Obama for president, the republican bush and his republican party with all there experience got us in this mess, high gasoline prices, bad stock market, lousy housing market, low wage increases for working people and the republicans never take responsibility they always point the finger at somebody else especially the democrats.

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Shines, what do you want Jim Cooper to do that he hasn’t done?2476 & Frog, the experience argument has been put to rest. Check the archives.Frog, Cooper agrees with Barack Obama more often than he disagrees with him. In addition, Cooper disagrees w/ John McCain more than he does w/ Obama. Moreover, Cooper sees that McCain will persist in Bush-Dick’s dreadful ways. No one wants that. John Rodgers’s good article merely highlights the disagreements. (By the way, Rodgers, “reference” is not a verb.)As to the socialist label, Frog, Obama is no more of a socialist than you are. All Americans are socialists. Some are in denial about it. Others recognize it. WAKE UP.I agree, Frog, that any taxpayer who makes more than $250,000 & cares about nothing but his/her money shouldn’t vote for Obama. All taxpayers making less than $250,000 or who care about America should vote for Obama. In that sense, this election is fairly simple.Your claim, Bend, that the Democrats are to the left of Karl Marx shows that you haven’t read any Marx or paid any attention to the program of these right-wingers who call themselves Democrats.

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Anyone who thinks Jim Cooper is a "socialist" needs to have their voting card taken away from them and burned.Cooper's a free-trading, job-killing, corporatist whore who never met a tax cut or giveaway for big business he didn't like.We'd all be better off if President Obama hired him in his Administration. That way, Nashville would finally have a chance to have a real Democrat representing us.