Guide to the State of the Union

With President Obama set to give his first State of the Union address of his second term this evening — after what could charitably be described as “not a good year” for him — we’ve put together a cheat sheet of five things we’re keeping an eye out for here at S&S:

  1. Carbon Regulations: With the EPA announcing new proposed Carbon Pollution Standards in September 2013, the administration has begun taking its first steps under Obama’s Climate Action Plan. While significant, these proposed regulations only cover emissions from power plants. The EPA has authority to do more under the Clean Air Act. Will Obama continue to build his climate legacy by announcing plans for additional carbon regulations tonight? Will he have anything to say about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that still lingers?
  2. Clean Energy R&D: Four weeks ago the Department of Energy announced $3 million in new funding to support clean energy businesses and entrepreneurs. This was followed two weeks later by the announcement of a $70 million dollar grant from the Department of Energy to fund manufacturing of new generation energy efficient semi-conductors. Both of these programs fulfilled promises made in last year’s State of the Union to fund more clean energy research and manufacturing. Will he follow that with promises of new funding in 2014? If so, will he maintain the direction set in 2013 or look to fund new types of projects?
  3. The Living Wage Debate: The Administration teed up a discussion of the living wage debate by announcing today that Obama plans to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for Federal employees. But that order will only impact a small subset of American workers. Will Obama use the speech to try to push Congress to enact more sweeping legislation? Or will he announce additional plans to push for increases in the minimum wage unilaterally?
  4. Expanded Executive Power: Obama’s actions on the minimum wage suggest a less conciliatory President than we saw in his first term. Obama came to Washington with a vision of the executive branch that was far less muscular than his predecessor’s. Now it sounds like he is more willing exert executive authority to bypass Congress when possible to achieve his policy goals. Will his speech tonight lay out a vision for the remaining three years of his term heavy on executive action? Or will he tack back towards working with Congress?
  5. Healthcare Reform: This is the big one. After the botched roll-out of the online exchanges last fall, Obama’s approval took a major hit. Will he focus the speech on other issues in an attempt to move beyond the healthcare discussion or will he continue to defend his signature achievement? If he chooses the latter, what pieces of information will the Administration choose to release regarding current sign-up rates?

These five issues are certainly not the only issues confronting the President in 2014 (the war in Syria may top the list of issues not mentioned) but these five are the ones we’re watching most closely here at S&S. How Obama chooses to address the first four will be particularly important as he tries to build a legacy bigger than Obamacare.


Image Credit: Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons


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