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Harry Truman Advises Obama in Charlotte: Reconvene Congress to Fix Fiscal Cliff

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At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Harry Truman accepted his party's nomination with a bold speech condemning the "Do Nothing" Republican Congress. President Truman was substantive and specific.

Truman described a Republican leadership long-controlled by "special privilege and greed" which served the "privileged few and not the common everyday man." He chronicled how the Republican Congress had repeatedly blocked needed economic and social reform legislation.

President Truman detailed the obstruction -- bill by bill. Republicans had blocked reforms in minimum wage, housing, taxes, education, social security, health care, energy, and civil rights.

Truman then ordered the Republicans to get back to work. President Truman announced from the Philadelphia convention that he would formally call Congress back from its long pre-election adjournment. Invoking Article II, Section 3 authority to convene a special session, Truman made the case for immediate action over mere political promises.

In his 2012 Charlotte acceptance speech, Barack Obama should invoke both Article II, Section 3 and the Truman precedent to formally "re-convene" Congress from its present recess. President Obama should charge the Congress with fixing the impending "fiscal cliff." In reconvening the Second Session for the constitutional "extraordinary occasion," Obama should state his expectation that future breaks and recesses (except religious holidays) be cancelled until the fiscal job is finished.

Obama should first demand that Congress deal with the myriad of taxes scheduled to increase in 2013. There is no justification for the Republicans continued opposition to tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. President Obama should demand tax cut legislation be completed by summer's end - two weeks. As Truman stated in his speech:

They can do this job in 15 days if they want to do it. They will still have time to go out and run for office.

Obama should fully describe the damage caused to economic recovery and job growth by continued congressional obstruction. Obama should again strongly condemn those congressional Republicans who would edge the American economy ever closer to the fiscal cliff for shameless electoral advantage.

President Obama should reassert his willingness to work together with reasonable Republicans for a fiscal solution. A grand bargain can still be timely struck -- well before November 6.

As Truman did, Obama should cite his constitutional responsibility to challenge congressional irresponsibility notwithstanding the active election season:

My duty as President requires that I use every means within my power to get the laws the people need on matters of such importance and urgency.

Few would dispute the urgency or importance of fixing the fiscal cliff. The uncertainty costs alone - blunt automatic spending cuts, substantial tax hikes, debt ceiling limit- seriously harm the recovery. Congress's own budget authority (CBO) reports that a failure to timely act would likely bring a "significant recession" with two-million jobs lost.

By demanding immediate action, Obama would crystalize the contrast between the Republican Convention's vague economic promises and the Republican Congress's record of obstruction. Just as Truman framed the debate:

Now, what...Congress does in this special session will be the test. The American people will not decide by listening to mere words, or by reading a mere platform. They will decide on the record, the record as it has been written. And in the record is the stark truth...of Republican misrule and inaction.


In the 80th Congress's special session, extremist Republicans ultimately blocked votes for Truman's bipartisan reform proposals. Then, as now, the GOP's radical fringe purposely harmed the American economy in service to extreme ideology and privileged interests.

GOP Presidential Ticket: Romney/Ryan/Boehner/Cantor/McConnell/DeMint/Akin

In his acceptance speech, Truman did not mention Thomas Dewey's name once, nor did he even reference the GOP presidential nominee. Truman knew that the "Do-Nothing" 80th was his real opponent, and ran his 1948 race against the reactionary Republican Congress.

History repeats. Since January 20, 2009, the "top priority" of congressional Republicans has been to defeat Obama by obstructing his economic recovery plans.

The 112th Congress earned its 10 percent Gallup approval rating obstructing critical legislation and blocking key appointments. It is analyzed as the most unproductive and ineffective legislative body since Truman's time.

By selecting House Budget Chair Paul Ryan as his running mate, the once moderate Mitt Romney embraces the most radical of the congressional Republicans. He adopts their extreme ideology as his own - without reflection or moderation.

Integral to moving FORWARD with his campaign, Barack Obama should fully expose the congressional extremists who passionately work against America's economic recovery.

In Charlotte, Obama should tell the "Do-Nothing/Obstruct Everything" 112th Congress to start the serious work of governing by fixing the fiscal cliff. (Click here for a full video of Truman's 1948 Convention speech.)

Victor Williams is an attorney in Washington D.C. and clinical assistant professor at Catholic University of America School of Law.