Obama shows mixed results in delivering on State of the Union promises

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Analysis: Do we even need a State of the Union address anymore?.

Not to start too pessimistically, but let’s be honest with one another. The tone and tenor of the Obama White House since Democrats suffered a crushing defeat to the GOP during the November midterm elections have been anything but conciliatory, and have raised doubts about whether the president can — or wants to — break through partisan gridlock in Congress before voters choose his successor next year. The president will enter the House chamber Tuesday night for his sixth State of the Union address riding a wave of confidence driven by an improving economy and brightening public approval ratings. In fact, according to a chart appearing Monday in The Wall Street Journal, median household income remains well below what it was when President Obama took office. Although Obama has vetoed just two bills in his six years, the White House has threatened to veto five measures from Congress this month alone — including legislation that would authorize the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, tie funding of the Department of Homeland Security to a rollback of Obama’s executive actions on immigration and impose new economic sanctions on Iran.

Obama vowed in a private meeting with Democrats last week that he will play “offense” during the final two years of his presidency, building on the aggressive executive actions he laid out over the past two months. The legislative proposals he has previewed — including a plan for free community college and a revamping of the tax code — have been based firmly on his terms, drawing objections from Republicans. Twenty-two guests will join first lady Michelle Obama in her box during Tuesday’s prime-time address, as the president seeks to illustrate his priorities for improving the lives of middle-class Americans. In 1789, it was perhaps useful to remind the president of the importance of keeping Congress (then numbering fewer than 100 people) up to speed on what was happening in the nation on the whole.

And I’ll call on this new Congress to join me in putting aside the political games and finding areas where we agree so we can deliver for the American people.” White House aides said they see no contradiction in Obama’s approach to dealing with the GOP-controlled Congress this year, and they point out that some of his proposals received Republican support in the past. His poll numbers haven’t been helped by the speech; on average, his approval as measured by Gallup has been a point lower the week after his addresses, compared to the week prior.

Yet as Obama takes his case to the American public in his prime-time address, he has made clear that he doesn’t intend to cede much ground to his rivals. “Some of them are going to be legislative proposals Republicans may not love, but we’ll push them,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He emphasized that the administration will use “every lever we can — whether it’s with Congress, on our own or using the bully pulpit.” The president’s proposal to raise $320 billion in new revenue over 10 years by increasing taxes and fees for wealthy Americans and big financial institutions angered Republicans, who had cited tax reform as a potential area of compromise. “I would guess the president would love for Republicans in Congress to take the bait or to somehow have our heads turned away from working toward constructive solutions in some cases,” Sen. Republicans have wasted no time in blasting Obama’s goal of paying for middle-class breaks by hiking the capital-gains tax on the rich and cracking down on now-legal ways to avoid inheritance taxes. Two of our favorite fat targets: a tax break for fabulously wealthy hedge fund managers that allows them to treat income as capital gains, and interest deductions for second homes. Obama is eager for his ideas to be heard by the public that he’s embraced the fragmentation of the media, announcing his community college plan with a Vine and Facebook for his immigration action. But that shouldn’t take the heat off elected leaders to concentrate their attention on those whose incomes still haven’t recovered from the hits of the recent past.

After Tuesday’s speech, he’ll take questions from a category of people known as “YouTube stars,” one of whom is fond of green lipstick and whose 2012 video of her choking on cinnamon has been viewed 42 million times. (If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 126 percent of Obama’s live 2014 SOTU audience.) A bigger problem, though, is that Americans simply are no longer that impressed by the pageantry of the presidency. Inside the West Wing, presidential advisers said they don’t think Obama’s aggressive rollout of executive actions and new proposals would further poison the political environment or diminish his chances of working with Republicans on what could be lasting achievements. Rather, aides said, the GOP will pursue bipartisan legislation when it is in their best interest, pointing to Republican support for a $1 trillion spending plan last month to keep the government open. It gives the president an excuse to talk about his policy priorities, but he certainly doesn’t need to gather everyone together in the Capitol to do that.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already knows (and has likely already dismissed) Obama’s key policy goals — immigration, community colleges — even without Obama’s big address. So Obama walks onto the House floor, passing through an effusive crowd of legislators as they imagine themselves making that same walk, and the Great Spectacle of Washington is upheld. Because this is what happens in Washington, D.C. — because this is what has happened in Washington, D.C., and, let’s face it, politicians don’t come here to upset the apple cart.

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