Washington Matters


State of the Union Address:
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Richard Sammon

Obama is recognizing that jobs and the economy will spell his fate.



President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress later this month will be largely different in tone, scope and detail from his inaugural address a year ago on the front steps of the Capitol.

Lofty rhetoric about reforming Washington and renewing America’s promise will give way to more frank talk about the issue most likely to define his still young presidency—the economy, with a heavy emphasis on jobs. In lowering his sights from a pursuit of large transformational change in Washington to a steady and daily focus on job creation and incremental economic recovery, Obama will concede the realities of the day, marking a change in his presidency.

The “Yes We Can” campaign motto is giving way to a stark reality marked by business retrenchment, sustained job losses, tight business lending, continuing home foreclosures and an almost volcanic partisanship in Washington politics and Congress ahead of midterm elections in November.

One year into his presidency, Obama realizes that voters now hold him and his party accountable for the nation’s financial well-being, even if much of what the economy does is beyond the control of the Oval Office. High unemployment will likely remain a troubling backdrop for the Obama administration for the rest of this year, and even beyond. The jury is still out on how effective the president’s economic stimulus ultimately will be in saving or creating jobs.

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Moreover, his legislative scorecard is largely blank, whether it be action on energy independence initiatives, green technology investment, immigration overhaul or budget reforms. The sweeping health care reform that he campaigned on has since been pared back on his watch in an effort to get something through Congress.

The debt and deficit are the 800-pound gorilla in the room, looming over the president’s agenda. Look for him to pledge serious fiscal restraint in his State of the Union address and in his pending budget proposal for the next fiscal year while also proposing job creation initiatives and further economic stimulus and assistance for struggling states that could cost upwards of $100 billion. The president, known for his eloquence, may state his case well, but doing what he’ll propose will be difficult at best.

The president knows his early window of opportunity is closing. There is every expectation for Republican gains, and possibly significant ones at that, in November’s midterm elections. GOP gains in the House and Senate won’t help the president achieve his agenda—quite the opposite. Democrats are sure to be on the defensive if they sustain large losses and will be less inclined to do heavy legislative lifting.

What’s already tough for the Democratic majority will become tougher. Republicans will feel emboldened and more inclined to put the brakes on Obama’s proposals, whether on energy cap and trade legislation, the union backed card check bill or even his picks for federal judges. Of course, Obama won’t be the first president to see an ambitious agenda curtailed. Many past presidents arrived in office with broad ambitions, only to find themselves spending a great deal of time on economic and fiscal issues. Obama won’t be the last, either.



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