By Jacob Solis
President Barack Obama presented a wide range of policy goals to an assembled Congress on Jan. 20 at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The address was Obama’s first broad policy speech since Republicans took control of Congress.
One angle Obama took in the address focused on acknowledging the partisan gap between the Democratic White House and the now Republican-controlled Congress. The president conveyed that now is the time for unity and what he called “a better politics.”
“Understand — a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine,” Obama said. “A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other.”
Obama went on to say that in every area of policy in which the Republicans and Democrats disagree from abortion, to immigration, to the right to vote there is always a middle ground to find and a compromise to be had.
The president also touted the success of the country’s ongoing economic recovery, noting the creation of 11 million new jobs over the last five years, growth of alternative energies and falling gas prices. Additionally, Obama affirmed “the fastest economic growth in over a decade,” citing reduction of both the budget deficit and the health care inflation rate.
Despite the robust economy, Obama remains outgunned by Republican majorities in the House and Senate and will have a difficult time passing several of his more polarizing legislative proposals, including a minimum wage increase, tax reform and a proposal for free community college.
As such, it is likely that the president proposed highly contentious issues precisely because they are not expected to pass, as he loses little political capital in the process of giving these proposals while simultaneously putting pressure on Congress to act.
“I thought that [Obama] was bold and made proposals for initiatives that would make significant change in the remaining years of his presidency,” said Madeline Burak, political science student and director of legislative affairs for the Associated Students of the University of Nevada. “The president stated himself that he has no more campaigns to run, and I think this was largely why he was able to propose such controversial ideas.”
However, even if Obama is able to pressure the legislature and raise certain issues in the short term, this year’s State of the Union will be hard-pressed to generate any long-term public support according to Kevin Banda, assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno and expert in campaigns and elections.
“It’s unlikely that the State of the Union address will have any influence on the 2016 elections,” Banda said. “You’ve got to keep in mind that most people don’t watch these speeches, and even if they do, they quickly forget the details. So even if citizens are happy or upset about the things that Obama talked about, they probably won’t remember much by the time they vote in 2016.”
Banda also noted that any Democratic candidate for president would likely attempt to distance themselves from the Obama Administration and would more readily craft their own strategic policy agenda than follow any laid out by the current administration.
With no remaining opportunity for Democrats to take Congress before Obama leaves office, the president’s ability to easily push his agenda through the legislature has dissipated. Nevertheless, Obama has made it clear that he will continue to pursue his policy goals during the remainder of his presidency.
“We’ve laid a new foundation,” Obama said. “A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter together, and let’s start the work right now.”
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.