Not heard in Charlotte: TARP, stimulus, climate

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by JIM KUHNHENN and KEN THOMAS

Associated Press

Posted on September 6, 2012 at 6:40 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- They are the missing pages of a convention story line, ideas and initiatives once prominently featured in President Barack Obama's agenda.

Climate change. Economic stimulus. The massive bank bailout known as TARP. The stimulus and the bailout remain politically poisonous while regulatory remedies for climate change have receded as a priority in a poor economy.

All three were central elements of either Obama's last campaign or his first years in office. But at the Democratic National Convention, they don't rate a mention, even as they complement or undergird some of the president's top policy goals: shoring up the economy, reversing a financial crisis and achieving energy independence.

Those are the most obvious pieces wiped away from the Democrats' image-making this week.

Some initial blank spots, however, were ultimately filled.

Convention delegates had to hurriedly insert references to God and Jerusalem in the party platform after their omission threatened to become politically explosive. Nudged by Obama, party officials pushed through a reference to workers and their "God-given potential" and restored language from the 2008 platform asserting that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Other issues weren't given a second thought.

For a party that once declared a "war on poverty," the poor received little mention. It took former President Bill Clinton to address the plight of the needy, not with a renewed call to help them but to decry Republican measures he said would hurt the poor and their children. There also was virtual silence on gun control, an issue that attracted attention after recent mass shootings across the country but has bedeviled Democrats since a 1994 crime bill many say cost them congressional seats.

There are faces absent from the picture as well. Conservative Democrats haven't been prominent at the convention. Former vice president and presidential contender Al Gore has not been seen. Disgraced vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who represented North Carolina in the Senate, has stayed away.

And then there's the attention to climate change, which has, well, changed.

The Democratic platform tempers its language on climate change, compared to the 2008 party document.

Four years ago, Democrats called climate change "the epochal, man-made threat to the planet." The current platform takes it down a notch, referring to climate change as one "of the biggest threats of this generation - an economic, environmental and national security catastrophe in the making."

Four years ago, the party called for a cap-and-trade system that would blend limits on pollutants with the ability for utilities and manufacturers to trade pollution allowances. The current platform approved Tuesday doesn't mention cap-and-trade.

Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney has criticized past Democratic efforts to adopt cap-and-trade, saying such a system would hurt the economy and drive away manufacturing jobs.

Convention speakers also have drawn attention to Obama's efforts to expand sources of alternative energy. But the cap-and-trade plan that Obama failed to push through Congress is absent from the discussion. In written answers to questions posed by the scientific website Sciencedebate.org and posted this week, Obama sidestepped cap-and-trade while emphasizing his administration's effort to limit car pollution and advance clean energy initiatives.

Asked about the absence of such a regulatory proposal, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said: "The country has evolved a little bit, particularly given the recession." He cited Obama's increase in mileage standards for automobiles as a key step toward addressing climate change.

When it came to the economy, a central question the convention sought to address was posed by Republicans: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago? After initially stumbling, the Democratic consensus was a resounding yes, that Obama had taken steps to halt the recession and put the economy on a slow but rising path.

Clinton made the case Wednesday night: "He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good, new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for innovators."

But while the White House and many economists credit the $800 billion stimulus that Obama pushed through Congress in 2009 for helping to stem the crisis, the massive package is an afterthought at the convention, relegated to a brief mention in a convention video Thursday. With the national debt crossing the $16 trillion threshold this week, massive spending measures are not issues to put up on the party's marquee. If it takes more than a well-delivered sound bite to explain it, it's best left unsaid.

Then there is TARP, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program initiated by President George W. Bush but completed and expanded by Obama. The bank bailout proved highly unpopular and, in 2010, politicians challenged Republican and Democratic members of Congress who voted for it.

While the administration and Wall Street credit the bailout for preventing a financial collapse, the issue is toxic.

"The TARP is a negative issue even though it probably did more to save us from the Great Depression than anything else," Schumer said in an interview with The Associated Press.

That said, Democrats have been cheering Obama's bailout of the auto industry, a $60 billion structured bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler that kept them alive and kept auto workers on the job in key political states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Where did that auto money come from? TARP. But you won't hear that detail at the convention.

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