The President gave a masterful speech the other night, which in and of itself is not news; he is an excellent orator and delivers a prepared message in an extremely effective manner. There were few new subjects in the speech, but rather a few new approaches to issues that he has spoken of in other campaign speeches.
And let there be no doubt, this was a campaign speech, pure and simple.
The policy points raised by the president fall into three categories – Likely to Pass in 2012, Possible to Pass in 2012 and No Way It Passes in 2012.
Likely to Pass in 2012
PAYROLL TAX HOLIDAY: House-Senate negotiations are underway on extending this tax break through the end of the year, and both sides are optimistic that a deal can be reached
This will get done, though I foresee renewed battles on how to pay for it and the resurfacing.
STOCK ACT: That’s the formal name for a bill that would make it illegal for lawmakers to trade stocks based on information from private congressional briefings.
This bill seems to have bipartisan support on the hill and among the populace and should pass with little opposition this year
Possible, but Doubtful to Pass in 2012
“ALL OF THE ABOVE ENERGY”: Latching onto a line that Republicans trumpeted in 2008, Obama has pushed for greater natural gas exploration and more funding to create renewable energy. He also wants to end oil industry subsidies and increase “clean energy tax credits.” This is an ambitious agenda, but pieces of it could fall into place, particularly natural gas exploration.
There seems to be a lot of room for compromise in this area that could provide campaign fodder to both parties, but a meaningful energy policy formulation is unlikely.
UNEMPLOYMENT REFORM: Obama called for turning “our unemployment system into a reemployment system,” suggesting ways to increase job training.
Republican and Democratic ideas on to do this are widely separated, though you may see some adjustments to UEI added to the payroll tax holiday and UEI extension bill discussed above. Comprehensive reform of the unemployment benefit process is unlikely in the near term.
EDUCATION REFORM: When Obama talked about granting schools “flexibility” and keeping “good teachers on the job,” he hit the sweet spot of GOP efforts to overhaul schools. Republicans have pushed for giving schools more freedom to fire under-performing teachers, an issue that riles teachers unions and their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill. This issue is ripe for compromise, but may have to wait another year or two.
This could be the surprise of the year, if Speaker Boehner and Secretary Duncan are able to get together on a comprehensive reform package, but the possibility of getting it passed on 2012 is slim.
No Way It Passes in 2012
A TAX OVERHAUL: Nowhere was Obama more ambitious than in his proposals to overhaul the tax code, trying to push ideas that he said would make it more fair. Democrats say these ideas are popular, but most insiders want all of them to be considered as part of a reform package that deals with corporate and personal taxes. Even Reid suggested Wednesday that such a major undertaking would reach only the committee stage this year.
NOMINATION REFORM: Obama endorsed eliminating filibusters on those nominees and guaranteeing a vote on them within 90 days. Republicans flatly rejected that, and after the speech, Reid stipulated that Supreme Court nominees should remain subject to the 60-vote threshold. An effort by junior Senate Democrats in late 2010 to eliminate filibusters floundered when senior Democrats objected, lecturing younger senators about how they would want those prerogatives once they served in the minority.
These two are in the true fantasy realm as far as action in 2012 is concerned.
So the takeaway from the president’s speech setting his campaign agenda, excuse me I meant from the State of The Union address, is that there are a lot of fanciful ideas (many of then inarguably good for the nation) and few if any of those ideas will be turned into legislation in 2012.
And the reason is that the president will be much too busy campaigning for reelection to spend meaningful time working on these issues, as will the Democrats and Republicans in the Congress.