Obama's lengthy to-do list
By Ben Pershing
The standard framework for a State of the Union setup story is to lay out "what the president needs to do." As President Obama prepares for Wednesday's speech, his to-do list is anything but modest -- set a course for health care, redouble his commitment to jobs, vow to reduce the budget deficit, announce a new education policy and combat a rising tide of public cynicism about his administration and government in general.
Looking back on a rocky first year, the New York Times asks: "Are the missteps at the White House rooted in message or substance?" In Obama's address, "aides said he would accept responsibility, though not necessarily blame, for failing to deliver swiftly on some of the changes he promised a year ago. But he will not, aides said, accede to criticism that his priorities are out of step with the nation's." USA Today says Obama will use the speech "to show he can boost the economy and create jobs this year while cutting the budget deficit in 2011." The Los Angeles Times writes "But with voter discontent over his healthcare overhaul running high and the recession's effects cutting deep, the president's trademark eloquence may not be the antidote to his troubles. Economists see little hope for substantial employment gains or the return of a robust economy between now and November's midterm congressional election, despite Obama's $787-billion stimulus package. And the mystique of his insurgent campaign, with its promise of change, has long since worn off. After months of wrangling over healthcare and other issues, polls suggest that voters now see Obama as an orthodox politician -- and the toxic partisanship of Washington as essentially unchanged."
Obama's speech comes as the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Americans are "fed up with Congress, the country's two main political parties, and the federal government," Mark Murray reports. "Only 28 percent believe the federal government is 'working well' or even works 'okay,'" half the number who thought so in 2000. And while 58 percent of respondents believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, there is a silver lining for Obama: "Only 27 percent say they blame him for not being able to find solutions to the country's problems. By contrast, 48 percent blame Republicans in Congress and 41 percent blame congressional Democrats." Joel Achenbach writes: "The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything."
What will the president say on health care? "Obama is not expected to offer a specific prescription in Wednesday night's speech, but Democrats want to hear him renew his commitment to the health care overhaul he's spent the past year promoting as his top domestic priority," the Associated Press reports. The New York Times says Democratic leaders "effectively slammed the brakes" on health care Tuesday, "saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them." The Wall Street Journal agrees that "fixing the health system is taking on less urgency as Democrats place more emphasis on measures to create jobs and help the economy recover. House and Senate leaders say they see no easy options for completing the type of comprehensive overhaul each chamber approved last year."
Reconciliation is becoming a more likely option, Roll Call reports: "Although Democrats aren't sure how long it would take or exactly what it would look like, using budget reconciliation rules to drag reform across the finish line is becoming the majority's last hope for achieving a comprehensive bill." The story adds that Chris Dodd believes Democrats "should first 'reinvite' Republicans to the table," so if the GOP declines the public will know where the fault lies for the lack of bipartisanship. Using reconciliation would take only 50 senators, but Politico finds eight Democrats who are already wary of the maneuver. The Hill writes that "centrist Democratic senators have circumvented party leadership to approach Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins about reviving healthcare talks," though there is no evidence that tactic will bear fruit.
CBS News wonders whether Democrats might simply give up on health care. With the reform impasse creating tension, Politico writes that the relationships between Obama and congressional leaders "are fraying and fraught. The anger is most palpable in the House, where Pelosi and her allies believe Obama's reluctance to stake his political capital on health care reform in mid-2009 contributed to the near collapse of negotiations now. But sources say there's also signs of strain between Reid and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and relations between Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate are hovering between thinly veiled disdain and outright hostility."
Obama on Wednesday will "call for creation of a bipartisan task force" to address the government's rising tide of red ink,the Washington Post writes, one day after the Senate defeated a measure to create a similar body. The vote "shows how difficult it will be for Washington to chip away at the federal government's trillion-dollar deficits," Bloomberg reports. The Hill finds that "Obama's proposal to freeze government spending is turning out to be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. His liberal base warned Tuesday the three-year cap on most non-defense discretionary spending could hamper an economic recovery. Conservatives dismissed it as insufficient and just for show." Robert Samuelson thinks the proposal amounts to "peanuts." Obama also plans to "extend a freeze on the pay for top government officials and political appointees," ABC News writes.
The speech will include a focus on an issue that has gotten little attention relative to health care and the economy. "Obama will propose a major increase in funding for elementary and secondary education for the coming year in Wednesday's State of the Union address, one of the few areas that would grow in an otherwise austere federal budget, officials said," the Washington Post reports. CNN says "the aggressive increase for education could help deflect criticism from liberals over Obama's broader call for a three-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending, which would include popular domestic programs." Politico writes that Obama will also "will encourage Congress to pass legislation restricting foreign corporations from getting involved in federal elections."
Jonathan Cohn compares this moment to the one Obama faced when the Jeremiah Wright controversy threatened to destroy his campaign, asking: "Can he give the speech of his political life -- again?" The Boston Globe says the speech "is shaping up as a policy answer to the political wake-up call Obama and Democrats received" from the Massachusetts special election. Mark Halperin writes that Obama should take some SOTU advice from Ronald Reagan, providing five tips for how 44 can emulate 40. AP checks in with Joe Wilson, and finds "the South Carolina congressman who called Barack Obama a liar during the president's last speech before Congress says he'll be on his best behavior for Wednesday's State of the Union address." Roll Call does the traditional "weird members who fight for an aisle seat" story.
January 27, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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