A Rising Economy Lifts Obama Going Into State of the Union Night

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Five reasons to pay attention to Obama’s lame-duck State of the Union tonight.

President Obama will deliver his second-to-last State of the Union speech tonight, and expectations are extremely low: Without any elections left to campaign for—and facing a Congress controlled by the opposition party—what Obama says could be inconsequential. President Barack Obama will probably speak to Congress and the nation on Tuesday night for longer than an episode of Scandal, but for far less time than it will take the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks to settle Super Bowl XLIX. Sure, he wants to tell you about his tax plan to fight inequality, but the sophisticates are wondering aloud why such ideas should even be in his speech, given their low likelihood of being enacted—though this standard never seems to apply to the Congressional proposals bound for Obama’s veto.

In a bid to generate excitement for the agenda-setting speech, Obama broke with tradition this month and began unveiling proposals from the address before he formally announces them to a joint session of Congress and a nationally televised audience. In 2013, Obama described the recreation of a thriving middle class as “our generation’s task”, and laid out ways to address inequality, including a minimum wage hike to $9.

Obama’s annual speeches to Congress run an average of 64 minutes, according to the University of California-Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project. Last year, the president described his annual address as one that would include “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” These included making loans to small businesses, pushing for a patent reform bill, reducing tax benefits for fossil fuel industries in favor of renewable energy sources, overhauling employee training programs – and yes, boosting the minimum wage. While Obama’s proposals are dead in the water for Congress when considered alone, it makes more sense to think of them as opening offers in a negotiation. Viewers may already have heard about his proposals to boost homeownership, pay for two years of community college and increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In a nod to the new political dynamic, changing media environment and a desire to fight “lame duck” status, Obama has spent the past two weeks rolling out his policy proposals on daily basis.

His proposal to use higher taxes on inheritance and capital gains, to lower the burden on middle- income Americans, sets up a counter-point that Republicans will have to move toward, unless they want to wait until 2017. Thomas Jefferson changed the custom with his first annual message on Dec. 8, 1801, by sending written copies to both houses of Congress to be read by clerks of each chamber. Anyone who was in a frenzy about Mitt Romney’s presidential trial balloon should be paying attention to what Obama says now, because the candidates from his own Democratic party will spend the next year alternatively running toward and away from him. Jefferson wanted to simplify what he believed to be an aristocratic imitation of the British monarch’s speech from the throne, which he thought was unsuitable to a republic. Any Democratic candidate who can’t at least match Obama’s plans will be considered too centrist by the base of the party during the primary, but the eventual nominee may very well need some space to run away from Obama’s policies in the general election.

The president will say it’s the right thing to do and will make his case again to the American people that the embargo is failed policy and it’s time to engage Cuba, ABC’s JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL report. Don’t forget that Obama, as president, still has a free hand in foreign policy, lame duck or no—consider the recent deal with China on carbon emissions, for example. Wilson also is widely credited with transforming the speech from a report on the activities of the executive branch into a blueprint for the president’s legislative program for the coming congressional session and year.

And he’s still got quite a slate of challenges: The muddled response to the Islamic State and authoritarian governments in the Middle East, figuring out how to restrain Russia from further belligerence while keeping the European Union on his side, and maneuvering towards two sets of global trade deals that his party dislikes but he hopes to make his final accomplishment in office. The state of our union is stronger than at any other point of his presidency, at least measured by the rising economy and slowly-improving sense of optimism in the direction of the country.

That doesn’t, of course, mean Americans are pleased with Washington or that the Republican-controlled Congress will get behind the proposals tonight. The president is backing a Congressional bill sponsored by two Democrats that would give American employees as many as seven days of paid sick leave each year; he’s also supporting state and local action on family and medical leave initiatives. Even as states and municipalities have begun to boost minimum wages, the federal wage has remained fixed at $7.25 an hour in spite of the president’s annual appeals to Congress to raise it. But that drama has been dissipating naturally anyway – and that’s why the White House has to be pleased with the way it’s gotten items off the laundry list and into display cases.

People can also watch an “enhanced” broadcast of the speech on the website, complete with data, graphs and charts explaining the policies Obama will talk about. When Mitt Romney, making a newly announced 2016 presidential run, spoke to a Republican audience about lifting Americans out of poverty, there was “no applause”, Politico noted pointedly. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute, filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Florida, that was broadcast nationwide. Populist Elizabeth Warren jeered at Romney on Twitter, asking “are corporations still people, Mitt?” “The President overcame furious lobbying by big banks to pass the most far reaching reform of Wall Street in history, which will provide the excessive risk taking that led to the financial crisis,” the page proclaims. The New York Democrat has staked out one of the best seats in the House of Representatives for the past 27 years, arriving in the chamber hours before the speech begins to claim his spot alongside the president’s entrance route.

But let’s not forget the systematic attacks by the banking industry on those reforms that in the last two months have finally succeeded in rolling back some of the measures designed to safeguard the financial system. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is under assault, too, as the newly-elected Congress seeks to redefine the average workweek to enable employers to describe more workers as being part-timers in order to deny them health care coverage. If anything, rather than find an audience in Congress ready to listen and work with him on some of his new proposals, the president may end up having to re-fight some battles he thought he had already won. Gross was freed last month as part of Obama’s historic announcement that the U.S. would end 50 years of hostility toward Cuba by restoring diplomatic relations.

But if the unthinkable happens — the Capitol is attacked, wiping out everyone inside the chamber — there’s one cabinet secretary surrounded by Secret Service agents somewhere else, waiting in the wings to become president, ABC’s ERIN DOOLEY notes. Ready for Hillary, the energetic, pro-Clinton super PAC, plans to shut down for good if and when Clinton announces for president, but not before finding a home for two key assets: A massive e-mail list of roughly 3 million supporters that the group has generated and its extensive social media network, which includes more than 2 million Facebook fans and roughly 150,000 Twitter followers. The e-mail list and corresponding data are expected to be transferred to Clinton’s official campaign in what is called a “list swap” – a legally complicated process that will surely be scrutinized by outside groups, such as the Campaign Legal Center, which work to enforce campaign finance laws. But, Adam Parkhomenko, the Executive Director of the super PAC has an idea: Transfer its Facebook and Twitter accounts in to the hands of another pro-Democratic group, Emily’s List. http://abcn.ws/1zrLsNq @NKingofDC: Interested in policy ideas that might actually happen?

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