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SOTU 2014: Another Laundry List After All

- January 29, 2014

As I noted earlier tonight on this site, the White House promised me that this year would be different. That the State of the Union address would confront Congress and avoid conciliation. That it would rip up the usual laundry list of legislative proposals. That it would, in short, spring free of the Demarest Rule (after GHW Bush aide David), namely: “Every State of the Union address is the same.”
Promises, promises. For good or ill, the 2014 State of the Union wound up in the usual mold: a list of domestic things, then a list of foreign things, capped — though more meaningfully and memorably than usual, it must be said — by a tribute to the armed forces, an appeal to American exceptionalism, and the hope that God will bless America.
In the end, the National Journal listed only four items that “Obama is proposing to do without Congress”: issuing the minimum wage EO, adding “innovation centers,” setting new fuel efficiency standards, and expanding SelectUSA, an agency that tries to bring jobs from overseas to the U.S. I would add a few more, for instance power plant emissions regulation and the “MyRA” savings bond plan. Still, even an incomplete count of legislative proposals ranges above 15, ranging from infrastructure funding to extending unemployment benefits to targeted tax breaks to immigration reform.  The bigger ideas in the bunch were held over from previous proposals — some dating back to 2009 — as the president urged Congress to get around to passing his program. He did also lay down an easier challenge to legislators: do not pass a particular bill (in this case, expanding sanctions against Iran.)  That, they should manage.
On Labor Day 1942, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that “In the event that the Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility, and I will act.”  He was looking for legislative authority to set wage and price controls, and he got it.  President Obama’s parallel assertion last night –“wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do” — does not quite have the same ring. This does not mean that the president’s broader pivot to unilateral action is illusory. But it does suggest that the 2014 State of the Union did not break the mold.
Ah well. As Red Sox fans don’t have to say any more: wait ’til next year.