State of the Union to focus on what's achievable

No longer about bold ambitions, this year's State of the Union address will focus more on what's actually achievable.
AP Wire
Jan 28, 2014

For the White House, that dose of realism is aimed at avoiding a repeat of 2013, when a long list of unfulfilled policy goals — including gun control and an immigration overhaul — dragged President Barack Obama down like an anchor. Tonight's prime-time address will focus instead on redefining success for Obama — not by what he can jam through Congress but rather by what he can accomplish through his own presidential powers.

He is expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work. All are part of the White House focus this year on boosting economic mobility and narrowing the income gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Another action Obama is expected to announce is the creation of a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer such plans. Because commercial retirement accounts often have fees or high minimum deposits that are onerous for low-wage workers, this program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds. Once the savings grew large enough, a worker could convert the account into a traditional IRA, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren't authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.

"Tomorrow night, it's time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House's broad social media promotion of the speech.

"I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said. "The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president's agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress' agenda."

The address, delivered before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television and the Internet, typically garners a president his largest audience of the year. It also provides perhaps his best opportunity to try to persuade skeptical Americans that he still wields substantial power in Washington, even if he can't break through a divided Congress.

The risk for Obama in centering his agenda on his own executive actions is that those directives often are more limited in scope than legislation that requires congressional approval. And that raises questions about how much impact he can have.

For example, Obama can collect commitments from businesses to consider hiring the long-term unemployed, as he'll announce Tuesday night, but without the help of Congress he can't restore expired jobless benefits for those Americans while they look for work.

White House officials contend executive actions should not automatically be pegged as small bore, pointing in particular to steps the president can take on climate change, including stricter regulations on power plants and new car efficiency standards. And some Democrats are cheering the strategy, saying it's time for Obama to look beyond Capitol Hill after spending more than half his time in office mired in congressional gridlock.

"They spent far too much time actually trying to think they could negotiate with House and Senate Republicans," said Jim Manley, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I, for one, am glad that they finally decided to go around Congress to the extent possible."

Not surprisingly, Republicans have been dismissive of the president's go-it-alone approach.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., suggested that some executive actions might run up against legal challenges, saying Congress should insist Obama "find the Constitution and follow it." And House Speaker John Boehner's office said the strategy was simply a rehash of earlier Obama efforts to focus on executive authority when action in Congress stalled, including a 2011 effort that the White House branded, "We Can't Wait."

Obama aides say this year's push will be more extensive than in the past. White House officials have been trying to boost involvement by often-sidelined Cabinet members, and the president has brought in John Podesta, a prominent advocate for executive action, to serve as a senior adviser for one year.

Obama won't be abandoning Congress completely. He's expected to make another appeal during the State of the Union for passage of a sweeping immigration bill, which stalled in the House after getting through the Senate last summer. The president also is likely to make a new pitch for two proposals that got little traction after they were first announced in last year's address to Congress: expanding access to early childhood education and increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10 an hour.

There are glimmers of hope for him on at least some of those issues. House Republicans are readying their own immigration proposal addressing border security, increased visas for high-skilled workers and legalization for some of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, though stopping short of providing a pathway to citizenship. And with some GOP lawmakers also increasingly focused on economic inequality issues, White House officials say conditions could be right this year for pursuing a minimum wage increase.

Obama will follow his State of the Union address with a quick trip Wednesday and Thursday to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee. In Maryland, he'll visit a Costco where he's expected to discuss job training programs and in Pittsburgh, he'll speak at the U. S. Steel Irvin Plant, where he's likely to tout initiatives to boost manufacturing.

On Friday, Obama will hold an event at the White House where he'll announce commitments from several companies to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring.

In keeping with tradition, the White House has invited several people to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night's address. Among them are two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, a teenager who stole the show at a White House science fair with his "extreme marshmallow cannon," and Jason Collins, an openly gay professional basketball player.

 

Comments

LIAMD

Try a drinking game for each lie or perhaps for each time the words 'income inequality' are said..good luck and make sure you turn your car keys in before show time !

Mystic Michael

Well, considering how seldom income inequality has been seriously addressed in Washington throughout recent history, you've had many years of sobriety in which to prepare for this evening. So drink up! And enjoy!

Truth Be Told

Here is comes, the end of the republic.
Say good-bye to due processes, equal representation, the legislative processes and the checks and balances that made america.
Say hello to an imperial president and communism.
Hope and change...

Lanivan

You and Liamd are a hoot - brings to mind that really funny movie with Michigan native, Jeff Daniels...umm..let's see - oh yeah! Dumb and Dumber.

LessThanAmused

Ms. Lani......you seem to be quite testy lately, are you suffering from sudden onset cabin fever??

I've found that going outside and throwing snowballs at passing snowplows makes me feel better....add in a big cup of hot chocolate when I go back inside and some native american flute music and I'm good for at least another 24 hours.

Oh, thumbs up for the comment too!

Lanivan

You're right, Less - perhaps I wasn't hard enough on them. Maybe they are actually the paranormal activity reported at our local assisted living facility.

The snowplows go by so rarely here, I'm afraid I'd freeze up in the snowball-throwing position, so that's out. The big cup of hot chocolate is a viable option, although this time of year I prefer Buddy Guy. Thanks for the remedies, but I rather like being testy. Now that I've reached a certain age, I enjoy acting out now and again - all anonymously, of course!

LessThanAmused

Well I certainly concur with all that...although where we live the d*** snowplows seem to go by every 45 minutes. If I need to look in a mirror I go out and stand in the road and look at my reflection there....
Buddy Guy is certainly a good choice for staying mellow, but I'm a bigger fan of Robert Cray.

Whoops, gotta go, here comes a pair of snowplows down the road....again.

Lanivan

LOVE Robert Cray - sweet! He's a major player of my walking music - really keeps my pace up without slowing down. Great musician and band.

Tri-cities realist

LTA, may I suggest standing in front of your (least favorite) neighbor's house when throwing snowballs at snow plows. Your wife doesn't need you spending a day in the pokey.

LessThanAmused

Good point! Thanks! and I know just the spot to stand too! With any luck at all there will be flashing lights in front of his house later tonight!! :-D (I'm thinking too that the wife might not mind a vacation for a day, as long as she didn't have to come down and spend money to bail me out....)

Barry Soetoro

I'm disappointed Mr. Lani didn't chime in on the Dining Diva comments.

Lanivan

Sorry - I was too busy having a wonderful meal at P.F. Prime.

LessThanAmused

Aha, that's why you been grumpy, you got a tummy ache! Maybe next time you'll take my advice and go to Los Amigos! :-)

Lanivan

Actually, I'm feeling feisty these days, not grumpy....I've had many a good laugh during these comment sessions. This weekend - Los Amigos!!

Barry Soetoro

That's a brilliant idea! I'm overdue for a good colon blow.

Lanivan

Wow! You can say that again.....I was wondering when you would get around to this.....you have been quite constipated with your remarks of late.

Former Grandhavenite

It's pretty funny to watch the R's freak out about executive overreach and an "imperial presidency". It was George W who started the whole trend of going around Congress, unilaterally just doing whatever you want, abusing "signing statements" to make the law not apply to you, and straight up ignoring constitutional rights and the separation of powers whenever it gets inconvenient. I don't remember many complaints back then except from independents. The R's were all gung ho about letting their guy rule like a king, and the D's were too cowardly to stand up to them, or bought off by authoritarians and corporate interests, as usual.

The trick is- Whenever someone in the government comes to you demanding extra power and authority beyond what the constitution lays out, you have to ask yourself if you'd be comfortable with THE OTHER GUY having that same power before you OK it. At some point, someone with the exact opposite political viewpoint is going to have that same power that you've given the executive, and at that point all you can do is reap what you've sown. What goes around comes around.

Tri-cities realist

I agree about the presidential abuse of their authority, regardless of who holds the office. The problem will likely only get worse, as the next president will try to "one up" the previous, while justifying his / her actions based on the previous president's actions. It's a slippery slope, and if you disliked Bush's actions in this area, you should also oppose Obama's, that is, if you are intellectually honest and believe in the Constitution.

Lanivan

Let's cut down on the Kool-Aid, shall we? If you are referring to presidential executive orders, see this....http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/d....

FDR= 3,522
Coolidge=1,203
Eisenhower=484
Reagan=381
Bush II=291
Obama=168

newsblogger

You forgot one:364 executive orders issued during the Clinton administration.

Lanivan

Thank you for reading the link.

Tri-cities realist

Hmm no Clinton or Carter. This from a progressive centrist republican. So transparent.

Mystic Michael

The bittersweet truth about Obama is that, while he's generally been a very good president (with a few glaringly pro-corporate, anti civil liberties initiatives, i.e. NSA overreach, the TPP, etc.), he could have been one of the great ones. When he swept into office in 2009, Obama had huge momentum, huge support, and a huge amount of political capital. He had carte blanche to implement virtually his entire pre-election campaign agenda. He could have broken up the Wall Street banks. He could have implemented single-payer health insurance.

He needed to twist arms, like Lyndon Johnson. He needed to go over the heads of Congress and sell his agenda directly to the public, like Franklin Roosevelt. In short, Obama needed to kick ass and take names.

Instead, he immediately lowered his sights and pulled his punches. He put on his tan-colored Mr. Rogers cardigan, and tried to be Mr. Kumbaya to the Republicans - never seeming to grasp that you can't reason with such uncouth barbarians (i.e. Congressman Joe "you lie!" Wilson), and you can't negotiate with people who hate you and are determined to kill you, politically speaking. He wasted months and months of precious time - during his all-important first term - waiting in good faith on Republicans to "decide" how they wanted to response to his policy proposals...while they were interested only in stalling him to a stand-off.

Alas, I believe the opportunity for greatness has passed him by. He'll go down in history as one of the good ones, roughly on par with Kennedy or Truman or TR. But he'll never be considered in the same league as Lincoln or FDR.

Lanivan

And don't forget Justice Alito and his disrespectful head shaking and mouthing NO when Obama chastised the SCOTUS for Citizen United during the SOTU address. And, of course he was right - look where that ruling got us.

The problem is that Obama's temperament is not suited to twisting arms and punching back. He is far more subtle and cerebral than that. My prediction: When his eight years are assessed, historians will judge him to be in the top 10 greatest presidents, based on a great many accomplishments in the face of a broken Congress that for the most part, has chosen to not govern, and who has put party before country. When looked at in this perspective, his achievements - some unprecedented - are historical, and incredibly so.

Former Grandhavenite

I literally thought he was going to be one of the greatest presidents in American history. I attended his first inauguration in DC because I thought I was witnessing the beginning of a golden age. I stayed on board for several years with him, but time and time again he betrayed my hopes by completely giving in to the Republicans, giving them essentially everything they want and governing as a conservative. For awhile I thought, "Well, that's politics...you have to compromise sometimes" but when it happened over and over again I realized I'd gotten played by the corporate interests. Obama is exactly what the 1% need- someone to sugarcoat the most brutal of their policies and sell them to the public as somehow progressive. It finally struck me why he always "compromises" by enacting conservative policies- that's actually what he wants. He's a far-right conservative president when it comes to most economic issues.

Even when he's been on the good side of an issue, he's just way too spineless to even try to sell it to the public, let alone stand up to the Republicans. Somehow it took him years to figure out he could give away the farm and basically do whatever they want, yet they'll still be out there demonizing him the next day and saying that he's somehow this radical liberal. If I could sit him down and give him three words of advice they would be, "Grow a pair!"

The Snowden revelations were the final nail in the coffin as far as my hopes for him. He'd campaigned partly on ending Bush's massive illegal surveillance of Americans, but he instead massively expanded it! Oh, and Guantanamo Bay is STILL open. That was when I essentially decided, "Ok, I'm done wasting time and energy defending this guy."

Mystic Michael

Obama has definitely gone way corporate on economic policy & financial services regulation (or lack thereof). And on that score, he has indeed been a bitter disappointment.

For one thing, he didn't even seriously consider making the ACA a single-payer, "Medicare for all" program. Instead, he went straight to the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, and essentially gave them everything they wanted. That was the STARTING POINT of his "negotiation" with them. Even then, they did everything they could to game the system, i.e. "cooperating" with the President in public, while surreptitiously pulling the strings of their bought Congress members to fight him every step of the way. What we have as a result is, while a dramatic improvement, far less than we could have had - with just a little more audacity and boldness on Obama's part.

Likewise, after making a big show of reining in the "too big to fail" Wall Street banks - even creating a showy, ostentatious Justice Department "task force" to investigate & prosecute their recent crimes - we've heard essentially nothing ever since. It's been nearly two years now. Not a single bank has been restructured. Not a single Wall Street executive has been prosecuted. Crickets.

Finally, look at the crew he recruited for his cabinet & economic advisers: Tim Geithner - Mr. Wall Street Apologist. Larry Summers - Mr. Establishment. Ben Bernanke. Not a single progressive economist who might actually succeed in challenging the tired, old, top-down, pro-plutocrat mindset of the Old Boy's Club. Not a Paul Krugman. Not a Joseph Stiglitz. Nada.

Hope and change indeed...

Real estate maven

Jimmy Carter is a much more accurate comparison Mystic. Kennedy, Truman or TR?? Not one self respecting Democrat I know could go along with that. I want some of the medical grade weed you're smokin'!!

Mystic Michael

Well let's examine the record, shall we, Maven? Obama is the chief reason why the Great Recession of 2008/2009 didn't deteriorate into the Great Depression of 2008/2009. He stuck his neck way out to rescue the American auto industry from a complete meltdown, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of American jobs - while Republicans in Congress were prepared to let Detroit go down the proverbial rat hole.

Obama succeeded in a major reform of the American health care system - something that every president (at least every Democratic president) of the past 60 years has tried to accomplish, and has failed. His administration succeeded in knocking off Osama bin Laden - something which, for all its jingoistic chest-beating, Bush & Cheney never managed to do. He took out Qaddafi in Libya too.

Obama ended the Bush administration's fools' errand of a war in Iraq. He's in process of accomplishing the same thing in Afghanistan (albeit far too slowly). And at present, he's nurturing the first serious diplomatic initiative with Iran since the revolution in 1979.

He kicked the middleman banks out of the federal student loan program, thereby saving hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary fees each year. He championed the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - one of the most promising people-friendly initiatives to come out of Washington in many years.

He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. He eliminated Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And that's all just for starters.

Shall I continue?

Lanivan

MM - "Obama succeeded in a major reform of the American health care system - something that every president (at least every Democratic president) of the past 60 years has tried to accomplish, and had failed".

Since Teddy Roosevelt(R) in the 1920's, some sort of universal health care reform has been addressed by every president, whether Republican or Democrat. Same with environmental issues. It's only been since our first mixed race president was elected that Republicans have rallied around the premise that health care reform - which includes the identical individual mandate floated by Republicans in the 1990's - is the brainchild of Obama, who they have spent the last five years trying to promote as "The Other" - you know, different from the rest of us, and thus a clear and present danger to all Americans.

tetrahydra

Some people just cannot accept change or the fact their opinion is a minority.

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