We recently commented on the small window of opportunity that president’s have to accomplish anything substantive during their second term. Recent history shows us that even the most popular and dedicated president’s struggle with keeping the train on the tracks during their second term in office. Sometimes outside influences curtail a political agenda…sometimes it’s just bad politics. Ronald Reagan struggled with the Iran Contra scandal and Bill Clinton was derailed by Monica Lewinsky. The far less popular George W. Bush faced a more conventional political roadblock. His attempts to privatize social security sank his political ship before it ever left the harbor. And of course there were the every illusive weapons of mass destruction.
Tonight’s State of the Union address will probably be President Obama’s last best attempt to move the proverbial political needle. So the question is: what should the president emphasize tonight to make the most of this limited opportunity. Given his lengthy “Bucket List” list and the gridlock in congress; which battles should the president engage to get the most bang for his efforts.
The answer is…the ones he can win.
First of all we think the president should concentrate on jobs. There is bi-partisan consensus that we need to create jobs that won’t get shipped overseas. Unemployment is still high and there are tens of millions of people in desperate need of a means to support their families. We would like to see the president to make a big, and we mean BIG push for rebuilding our infrastructure. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that our infrastructure is crumbling and in need of a comprehensive upgrade. Everyone agrees that if we are to compete in a global economy we desperately need a massive rebuilding effort in this area. Corporate America is not going to invest in bridges and dams and roads. The government has to do it. A big infrastructure initiative would create millions of jobs, broaden the tax base and increase our economic capabilities. The unions will love the idea. Federal, state and local governments will benefit from the increased revenues. And money is cheap right now. The necessary funding can be appropriated by borrowing at historically low interest rates. You can borrow trillions for just pennies on the dollar and pay it off with the taxes generated by millions of new full time workers. This is a win/win for everybody.
But, you say, Republicans are certainly not going to agree to any more spending. So how does he pass this initiative?
The answer is by tying infrastructure to comprehensive, substantive entitlement reform. Like it or not; entitlement reform is the biggest of all the conservative hot buttons. and if you take even the staunchest liberal away from the eyes of the prying media they will admit that the only way to securing our country’s financial future is by way of addressing our biggest financial threats…Medicaid and Medicare.
We are not talking about vouchering or block granting these programs. We are talking about making common sense adjustments in the eligibility and benefits that are more in tune with our every changing demographics and economic circumstances. By addressing our long term debt we will free up the funds necessary to invest in education, innovation, research and infrastructure; the cornerstones of our future.
For too long we have had Republicans who deny science and Democrats who deny math. Both sides have to come off of their extreme positions and look toward the greater good. By investing in infrastructure the president addresses our short term needs and appeases his caucus. By addressing entitlements he addresses our long term obligations and pushes that very big conservative hot button. Both sides of the aisle can claim victory.
The next thing that we feel he should emphasize is immigration reform. Democrats want it and Republicans desperately need it. Republicans know that they cannot hope to win future national elections if they continue to alienate the country’s fastest growing demographic. Hispanics voted for Obama 8-1 over Romney. Republicans can ill afford to continue down that path in the future. The president must support strong boarder security to assuage Republican fears. And he must mollify Democrats with a difficult yet reasonable path to citizenship for those who are here illegally. Self deportation and strong arm tactics won’t work. A nation built by immigrants can do better than that.
Last but certainly not least…gun control. The window of opportunity for the president to do anything about gun violence is rapidly closing. The emotionally charged reaction to the Sandy Hook shooting is unfortunately already beginning to wane. If the president wants to do anything about gun control, now is the time. We would like to see a ban on assault weapons. But it is highly unlikely that the president can get a ban on assault weapons passed. He might have a chance on banning high capacity magazines; but that is 50/50 at best. His best chance to get anything done on guns is to focus on background checks. Americans, including lawful gun owners and NRA members support universal background checks for all gun purchase by a 9-1 margin. This is a battle he can win.
Jobs, infrastructure, entitlements and immigration; these are battles that this president can win.
But the only way for him to win these battles is to extend the hand of compromise to the Republicans. Stirring up grassroots support is a great idea. But nothing surpasses looking your opponent in the eye and shaking their hand in agreement.
We know that the president won the last election by a significant margin. We know that his favorability rating is in the 70’s while congressional approval is in the toilet. But it is congress that enacts legislation.
The president cannot get anything done alone.