Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Obama's last chance to 'go big'

  • Print

State of the Union addresses are about big ambitions, and Tuesday night's didn't disappoint. U.S President Barack Obama's many priorities -- job creation, middle-class earnings, infrastructure spending and all the others -- are the unfinished business of a president aware (and no doubt uneasy) that, in three years, he belongs to history.

How many of those aspirations can he achieve? Of 24 proposals in last year's address, Washington Post fact-checkers rate five as accomplished, four as partly complete and 15 -- notably gun control, immigration reform and a minimum-wage hike -- as dead letters. And at first glance, this year's prognosis wouldn't be that upbeat:

The Obamacare rollout soured many Americans on government-as-change-agent. Twitchy members of Congress avoid bold votes in election years. And Obama's approval ratings have tumbled. From the Post's report on its new poll with ABC News: "Just 37 per cent (of respondents) say they have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country's future, while 63 per cent say they do not. Those numbers are the mirror image of what they were when he was sworn into office in 2009." Ouch.

Tuesday night, Obama didn't dwell on his lost 2013. There was an oblique nod to his gridlock with Congress last year: "Let's make this a year of action." The subtext: He has to wonder whether, if his signature health overhaul doesn't succeed, his presidency totals one year of managing through a financial crisis, followed by a biblical seven years of lean.

That's why his staffers have been broadcasting the message that Obama will try to circumvent Congress by marshaling his powers of office. Presidents of both parties have done that although it's often a frustrating way to rule: Congress can thwart (or refuse to fund) executive orders that lack the force of law. And subsequent presidents can undo those orders as breezily as they were written.

Listening to Obama, though, we heard two takeaways that should be his realistic agenda before the acceleration of presidential campaigning in 2015 certifies his lame-duckery. The point isn't that he can get Congress to do his bidding; he cannot. On these two issues, though, he can help Republicans and Democrats realize it's in their best interests to do as he asks:

-- Immigration reform should be a win-win-win for both parties and Obama.

-- He also can achieve his economic priorities for Americans, if he goes to Capitol Hill less as a base-pleasing populist than as a solutions-oriented pragmatist. Obama's 2013 plea for "bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit" went nowhere. Tuesday night he doubled down: "Let's work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home."

That's a spectacularly accurate if too limited prediction of all that a reform to federal taxes and transfer programs could deliver. Even before his presidency began, Obama was saying the right things about the unsustainability of entitlement benefits; in budget wrangles with Republicans he has agreed to Medicare reforms.

Imagine the potential power of a president who'll never run again gathering his economic priorities into one package. A path to debt reduction, encouragements to hire more workers, elimination of tax deductions and credits that tend to benefit the wealthy, incentives to drive new growth: In one afternoon, Obama's policy team could draft an omnibus plan for financing federal operations, expanding the nation's workforce and assuring that today's benefits will exist for tomorrow's retirees. Stable and lower tax rates, paid for by scaling back those runaway deductions and credits, would benefit individuals and employers alike.

During Obama's presidency, efforts at a "Go Big" finance deal always have flopped. Now, as a second-termer with goals he wants to accomplish, he's liberated. He can bundle his proposals in bows appealing to both parties. Granted, with Obama inclined to govern by executive order rather than joust with Congress, this wouldn't be easy. But it could be done. Democrats and Republicans proved that with their tax megapackage late in Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Immigration reform, coupled with a rescue of federal finances and entitlement programs? Good for Obama, good for the historians who'll grade him -- and good for the future of America.

THUMBS UP, DOWN

Columnist Doyle McManus writes that Obama, for once, gave a realistic State of the Union Speech, while Jay Ambrose sees nothing but razzle dazzle obscuring a record of failure. Read them at wfp.to/comment

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Fringe, space motifs trendy for teens heading back to school

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • July 1, 2012 - 120701  -   Canada Day fireworks at The Forks from the Norwood Bridge Sunday, July 1, 2012.    John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new Blue Bombers uniforms?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google