WASHINGTON – Here’s a little secret about the State of the Union address that President Barack Obama will deliver next week: He’ll give Congress a long list of requests but few likely will be approved. That’s just the reality of a politically divided government.
Take a look at what happened after last year’s speech.
Congress was not in a giving mood, stalling or downright ignoring Obama legislative priorities such as gun legislation, immigration, a minimum wage hike and universal preschool. The president did better with his own to-do list, but even there the administration was still wrapping up some of his pledges just days before his 2014 State of the Union address.
Indeed, when Obama delivers his speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress, it might sound familiar. Heavy on economic themes, the address will again appeal for action on immigration and the minimum wage, and in the event Congress once again balks, he’ll offer narrower programs that he could initiate on his own.
“There is always potential for new energy behind older ideas so that they can move forward,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, suggesting that State of the Union addresses are more an exercise in patience than in action.
So here’s an annotated look at the president’s 2013 State of Union. Use it for keeping score or as a guide for his coming address.
$9 SNUBBED? TRY $10.10
In 2013 Obama told Congress: “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour… let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”
Congress didn’t act. Instead, Democratic lawmakers upped the ante. A Senate bill, now endorsed by the White House, would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 and then adjust future increases to inflation. Obama is expected to make raising the minimum wage much more central to his agenda this year than last.
“You’re going to see a big push in Congress to get it done,” said Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. “With each passing year it’s increasingly overdue.”
FALLING ON DEAF EARS
In 2013 Obama told Congress: “Let’s agree right here, right now to keep the people’s government open, and pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”
Instead, a budget impasse triggered a 16-day partial government shutdown in October and the administration and congressional Republicans went to the brink before agreeing to increase the nation’s borrowing authority and thus avoid a default.
It appears to have taken that experience, however, to change behaviour.
Congress last week approved a $1 trillion spending plan for 2014 without the drama of past budget fights. Another debt ceiling looms in late February or March. Republican leaders have said they won’t allow the nation’s credit to be threatened again.
FAILED BUT STILL ALIVE
In 2013, Obama told Congress: “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.”
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. In the House, the move stalled as Republican leaders, pressed by tea party conservatives, demanded a more limited and piecemeal approach.
Recent signs have raised expectations, however. House Speaker John Boehner plans to issue a statement of principles summing up still-undefined goals for changing immigration laws. Some Democrats appear willing to accept legislation that gives immigrant workers in the U.S. illegally official status to remain in the country, even if it doesn’t specify a path to citizenship.
FAILED, HAS NO CHANCE
In 2013 Obama told Congress: “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence —they deserve a simple vote.”
Following the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama proposed sweeping gun control measures. But the toughest proposals, including stricter background checks, failed in the Senate. The House did not even take them up.
Eventually, Obama took executive action to strengthen federal background checks for gun purchasers, with a focus on limiting people with mental health issues from getting access to firearms.
FINE, THEN I’LL DO IT
In 2013, Obama told Congress: “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
Obama launched a major second-term drive to combat climate change, bypassing Congress as he proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The plan aims to help move the United States from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy such as wind and solar power, nuclear energy and natural gas.
Obama also has ordered the federal government to use renewable sources for 20 per cent of its electricity by 2020 — nearly triple the current level.
Moreover, the White House announced in December that John Podesta, a former chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, will join Obama’s inner circle, focusing on energy and climate change policies that Obama can advance on his own.
GETTING IN UNDER THE WIRE
In 2013 Obama told Congress he would launch three manufacturing hubs, where businesses would partner with the Departments of Defence and Energy to crate global centres of high-tech jobs. “And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America,” he added.
While there is bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate that embraces Obama’s proposal, Congress has yet to deliver.
Obama also pledged to identify five communities that would be targeted for tax incentives and federal grants under a government “Promise Zone” program. And it was only this month that the Obama administration named the five communities that qualified for “Promise Zone” designation.
Last week, Obama announced that North Carolina State University had been selected to lead one of the three manufacturing hubs that he promised to launch in his State of the Union speech.
The other two are still in the selection process.
DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING
In his 2013 address, Obama told Congress: “I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
Then in June, a 29-year-old, bespectacled former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, emerged as the leaker of reports that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans. Subsequent newspaper stories contained further surveillance revelations.
Obama’s pledges of transparency were put to the test as Snowden’s secrets were unfurled in news report after news report.
On Friday, pressed by the attention generated by Snowden’s leaks, Obama proposed new measures aimed at overhauling the government’s sweeping surveillance program.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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