If I had to sum up the State of the Union speech in one phrase it would be: executive action. The core line of the speech for me seemed to be, “Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
After five years of reaching across the aisle the speech was in many ways an acknowledgement that no amount of super committees, pre-compromise offers, public shaming, adopting Republican proposals, or winning a mandate from the voters is going to “break the Republicans fever.” The Republican party has clearly decided they are going to oppose almost anything Obama is for, so his only option to get things done this year is through executive action.
The SOTU fact sheet from the White House perfectly demonstrates this point. The highlight front page is labeled “Key Executive Actions the President Will Take in 2014.” A display of policy actions designed to show the President isn’t a powerless lame duck. The rest of the fact sheet clearly distinguishes between what Obama wanted to do with Congress and what he would do with executive action. Roughly half of all the bullet points were about executive actions, showing he is able to move forward on all his priorities with or without Republicans.
The few items President directly asked Congress to take action on are either a very limited number of issue Republicans have shown some interest in (trade deals, tax reform, patient reform, immigration) or extremely popular proposals (raising the minimum wage and expanding preschool) they are likely to feature heavily in the 2014 campaign.
This comes across as a much less ambitious but realistic SOTU than last year’s. The focus is smaller and on things Obama can do on this own.