State of the Union Speech Had Less Than Meets the Eye

Democrats were thrilled with President Obama’s State of the Union address. It laid out what looked like an “expansive” program for government to help revive the economy for the struggling middle class.

From a prominent mention of climate change to a passionate plea for Congress to vote on the administration’s signature gun control plan, the president was clearly reaching out to “the minorities, immigrants, young people, and suburban women who made up Obama’s electoral coalition,” as Joshua Green wrote in Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

But if you look a little deeper, there’s not much “there” there. Because the president must know that hardly any of this will get through Congress, especially the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Let’s look at them one by one:

He proposed a $9 an hour federal minimum wage. Unions will love it, but this is one issue that will unite the fractious GOP caucus in a big thumbs down.

The president called for “a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change”—like, um, cap and trade? But he quickly gave up on Congress’s ability to pass it and pledged to use “executive actions” if necessary.

He also proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”  That will be a neat trick when automatic spending cuts in the dreaded “sequester” are slated to lop off $4 billion in education funding in fiscal 2013.

He suggested copying the German model and redesigning American high schools to improve graduates’ technical skills. Ditto the previous bullet point.

President Obama delivers the State of the Union address. Photo: NBC News.

President Obama delivers the State of the Union address. Photo: NBC News.

He again called for comprehensive immigration reform. Here he’s got a fighting chance: Powerful Republicans support some moves in this direction, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who came out in favor of some form of the Dream Act for children of undocumented immigrants.

And finally, in the most emotional part of his speech, he called for passage of his proposed gun-control legislation—including comprehensive background checks and limits on sales of assault weapons and magazines.

Or did he? The president practically pleaded for gun victims like former Rep. Gabby Giffords and the families of Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., to get a vote in Congress on this legislation:

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.

Just a vote, Mr. President? Not passage?

Again, the president knows well that wider background checks is the most he will get from the House and even the Senate, where Democrats who face tough reelection campaigns in conservative states in 2014 aren’t willing to go out on a limb.

Oh, and one more thing: the president insisted that more tax revenues from wealthier Americans be part of any further deficit reduction package and he called for only “modest reforms” in entitlement programs like Medicare.

Republicans, of course, oppose any more tax increases and want far more than “modest” entitlement reforms.

Charles Fournier summed it up well in National Journal:

Rather than go big and bold, President Obama settled Tuesday night for incremental and pragmatic…The agenda he discussed Tuesday night was a mixture of old proposals and new ones fashioned on the cheap, bowing to the obstinacy of his GOP rivals and the brutal fiscal reality of the times.

Small ball, anyone?




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