Obama liberated? Five things to watch in State of the Union.

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. There’s a subtext to President Obama’s slew of domestic policy proposals since the November elections: President Obama does not trust Hillary Clinton very much. 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. None of the president’s domestic-policy brainwaves has much chance of becoming law in the next two years: not free community college, not cash grants to selected middle-income households, and certainly not heavy tax increases on upper-income earners.

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. The Republican Congress is unlikely to act on his proposals, while state lawmakers of both parties are busy reducing the burden on taxpayers nationwide. 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.

Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council notes that 14 states enacted significant tax reform in 2014 and he tells us that “it is quite likely we will see 20-25 states make substantial reductions in taxes this year.” This is the kind of sustainable economic stimulus you won’t read about much in the New York Times. These are not the great memorable speeches of American history.” That analysis may be generally correct, but there have been some notable moments during the centrepiece speech of the US political year – a tradition started by George Washington in 1790, suspended by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 and reinstated by Woodrow Wilson in 1913.

But coming off a midterm election defeat that handed full control of Congress to Republicans, the president faces long odds in actually enacting his agenda and in essence is trying to frame the debate for his remaining time in power and for the emerging 2016 contest to succeed him. Instead of seeming chastened by his party’s reduced status, with slim hopes of enacting any major Democratic initiatives in his final two years in office, Obama is buoyant.

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. The economy is rebounding, his job approval has gone up, and he’s pushing bold proposals that please his party’s base and leave Republicans indignant. “Losing control of both houses does liberate him to a considerable degree,” says Michael Waldman, former chief speechwriter for President Clinton and president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

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. Reforms did not go nearly far enough for our tastes, but the changes underline that outside of the Obama White House, there is a growing sense even among Democrats that tax systems must allow businesses to grow and compete.

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. Tax reform also advanced in purple states like Maryland, Michigan, and Minnesota. 2015 could be an even bigger year for reform, thanks to the consequences of the 2014 elections.

Ahead of the 1996 midterm elections, President Bill Clinton sought to shift from left-leaning liberalism into the political middle by proclaiming that “the era of big government is over”. 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. Whatever her own personal views—still an elusive quantum after all these years in public life—she is identified in the public mind with her husband’s record, her husband’s appointees, and her husband’s donors. Obama’s senior adviser, said Monday. “We have proof that President Obama’s strategy is working, and the Republicans now have a Chicken Little problem — all the doom and gloom they predicted did not come to pass.” Republicans cast Mr. Hillary Rodham Clinton, strongly favored to be the Democratic nominee, may have more at stake than anyone in the House chamber Tuesday night. (The speech begins at 9 p.m.

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. So as the clock runs down on his administration, he seems determined to set the post-Obama Democratic Party on a more leftward course than he himself had the strength to steer. President Franklin D Roosevelt called for four essential human freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear – which are still as pertinent 74 years later.

In defying reality, they said, he simply wants to return to the tax-and-spending ways of the past. “I see this as the president returning to the theme of class warfare,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois. “It may have been effective in 2012, but I don’t find it to be effective anymore. As Ronald Reagan’s second term entered its final stretch, he and his last chief of staff, Ken Duberstein, became legendarily solicitous of the views of the Republican Party’s likely next presidential nominee, George H.W. In his seventh annual address to Congress, President James Monroe warned European countries not to colonise or meddle in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, a position that became known as the Monroe Doctrine – and a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Six years later, the recovery looks robust: Unemployment is down to 5.6 percent, economic growth in the third quarter of 2014 came in at 5 percent, gas prices are down, and the stock market is breaking records. Obama has used the period since his party’s election defeat to reassert himself through a climate agreement with China, executive action to liberalize immigration rules and a diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba.

His long-sagging approval ratings in polls have gone up, reaching 50 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News survey, a nine-point jump since December, although other polls have not measured quite as big an increase. Many of Obama’s new initiatives, which he will review Tuesday night, are aimed at boosting the middle class – both those already there and those who want to get there. But lately, he has been pushing the nation’s economic prospects more robustly and without as many caveats, saying it is time to move to a new stage. “Over the last six years, we have been weighed down by the legacy of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Mr.

Not only will the president issue a series of proposals Republicans have no intention of pursuing, but he also surely will remind Republicans of his veto power. 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. This month alone, he has threatened five more, including on bills to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, new sanctions on Iran, and an effort to overturn his executive actions deferring deportation of illegal immigrants.

Bernstein said of the president. “ ‘What you got?’ ” But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who has advised Republican leaders, said Mr. There are areas – particularly on international trade – where the president is more in sync with the GOP than with his own party. “The American people don’t expect this era of partisan warfare to end abruptly, but they are looking for a break in the storm,” says William Galston, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton White House policy adviser. “The one reason there may be some possibilities [for cooperation] in the first nine months of 2015 is that neither party wants to bear the sole onus for the total failure of the third Congress in a row to get anything done.” Obama’s mixed message to Democrats. Obama may not be able to convince the country that he has made enough progress fixing the economy. “It will be an uphill battle, as his policy record on growth is not strong, the recovery is still unsatisfying and the inequality message is not popular, which is why he abandoned it so quickly after declaring it the issue of our time,” he said. The advance reports suggest the president will abolish a popular middle-class savings vehicle for college education and that he wishes to double-tax estates, first with the estate tax itself, and then by applying additional capital gains taxes to selected assets within the already taxed estate. Obama has no popular mandate for his latest initiatives. “We just had an election in which the president said his policies were on the ballot,” he said. “Hard to see what is different today than 60 days ago.” In laying out his agenda, Mr.

Galston says. “But what you can do is emphasize your willingness to cooperate and compromise in the areas where that’s possible.” In recent days, Galston says, the White House has begun to understand how little Democratic support there is for Obama’s trade agenda in Congress. 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. The president’s “proposals are so out of touch you have to ask if there is any point to the speech,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, said in a Twitter message. But when Democrats propose outright and visible redistribution of wealth, then they are playing on terrain Republicans long ago trenched, mined, and barbed-wired. “In these challenging times, higher taxation of job-creating investment is the very last thing this country needs.” Republicans can repeat that line in their sleep, without a gaffe, all day, every day, including weekends.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the president’s tax plan was “a nonstarter” that would not help businesses grow. “More government, a $300-plus billion tax bill from Barack Obama, is not the formula for this country to succeed,” he said. But the future of the law rests once again with the Supreme Court, which will hear a case in March that threatens the federal subsidies for many recipients.

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. The biggest element of Obama’s legacy will be the economy, and he is expected Tuesday night to deliver his most full-throated celebration of its recovery since taking office. Barack Obama himself delivered the answer way back in January 2008, when a Nevada editorial board asked him about his view of the role of Ronald Reagan in American politics. “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America,” he replied, “in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” Obama strongly opposed George W. In 2009, Obama, speaking from the same rostrum, warned that “the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little.” At some deep level, Obama’s entire project has been a reply, not to Republican conservatism but to Democratic neoliberalism.

Now, as his presidency nears its close, the wife, heir, and namesake of the leader of the neoliberals has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to lead the Democratic Party in 2016. Whatever happens after that, he can at least say that it was his kind of Democratic Party—not Bill Clinton’s—that won a third consecutive mandate, after having twice done what Clinton never did: win an outright majority of the presidential ballots cast. Clues to that dynamic are likely to be on display Tuesday night. “It seems to me that one of the positive things he could do for the party – and incidentally for Hillary – would be a little more populist tinge to his rhetoric, especially on health care and [the banking law known as] Dodd Frank,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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