Tomorrow night, January 28, 2014, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to the Congress. A guiding question for both speech-writers and legislators, not to mention voters in the mid-term election year is whether the speech will be remembered for its "small-ball" expectations, or whether, like last year, the president will attempt to hit a few home-runs.
Clearly, based on the Congressional collaboration of 2013 (non-existent) the home-run approach did not work. Immigration, climate change, infrastructure, tighter gun-control laws, the overhaul of the tax structure to claw back some of the inequities that have favoured the wealthy....none of these really found resonance among the obstructionist Tea Party. Since last year, however, the president has declared, " I have a pen and I have a phone and with the pen I can make executive orders and with the phone I can rally ordinary people around the country to lean on their congressional representatives."
Although the Congress reached an interim piece of legislation that would prevent a government shut-down because the government had run out of money, until fall of 2015, there is still outstanding the question of the debt ceiling, that anachronistic, and anal requirement on Congress to raise the debt ceiling, in order to pay the bills. Naturally, government costs continue to rise, just as do the costs of every other institution and family across the globe. Raising the level the government is permitted to borrow has been, and should return to being, a normal and non-negotiable piece of work for which the sitting administration ought not to be even asked, and certainly not expected to "give something" in return to the Republicans for their agreement to do that bare minimum bill.
The president has demonstrated repeatedly his willingness to work with, to compromise, even to sacrifice some of his core principles, in order to get a piece of legislation that would be a step closer to that ideal he holds dearly, "a more perfect union"....He gave up the single-payer concept in order to achieve Obamacare (something we would guess he profoundly regrets now), two years after the bill became law, and the road-blocks, glitches and political opposition ranging from unworkable to outright socialist, continue to march along the headlines and through the corridors of power in Washington as well as in too many state legislatures.
All told, following the Supreme Court decision that permitted states to decide to expand Medicaid rather than forcing them into the overall plan, some 23 states in which Republic governors occupy the governor's mansion, have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will pay all the costs of that expansion for three years, and 90% of those costs in years following the first three. These governors are not only waging war with Obama and the Democrats, probably because they mistakenly consider their position "saleable" in the upcoming midterm elections, but they are also depriving millions of Americans who cannot afford to purchase Obamacare-sanctioned insurance and are falling through the cracks between the level of poverty (on a percentage basis) of their income and the floor at which the federal subsidies kick in to support their premium payments.
So even though the legislation is passed, and notwithstanding the Republican onslaught that seeks to abolish it, and the many glitches, the Obama administration will continue to have to defend the law, far into the end of the president's second term in 2016. Also, with only 3 million enrollees, one half of the number projected to make the legislation affordable, based on the numbers of health young people who might enrol and thereby reduce premiums for older and less healthy citizens, the deficit in numbers of enrollees continue to plague a plan that was authentically designed to bring health care insurance to millions of Americans who previously had none. However, the bill did not and does not assure access to health care only insurance, for those who can afford to pay, and those whose employers continue to provide coverage, thereby avoiding the penalty, for individuals quite small but for corporations with more than 50 employees, quite steep, in the thousands annually.
Back to the "small-ball" versus "home-run" approach...given the current conditions in Congress where the president can count only on a micro-piecemeal approach, if votes are going to be bipartisan as they have to be in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives...
Immigration, that other elephant in the room, with some 11 million undocumented "aliens" living in the country, and a chasm between the reasonable approach of granting them a path to citizenship (Democratic) and sending them packing to their land of origin (Romney's position as the Republican candidate for the White House in 2012), is going to have to find what today looks like a bridge too far. The political wind, however, favours some acceptable compromise from both sides, if the Republican party is not going to continue to abandon the millions of Latino votes that have been going to the Democrats.
On climate change, the president and only some of his party support raising the bar on the control of emissions of carbon dioxide; nevertheless, the Republicans and too many southern democrats from the Bible belt, continue to deny the human impact on the environment, and frame the issue as those liberal intellectuals crying "Fire" in an already crowded theatre.
On restoring the middle class, where most of the underwater mortgages have occurred, and where most of the jobs have been lost, Obama will have reports like those from Maria Shriver and Oxfam, both released within the last two weeks, the former focussing on the impact of poverty on women, especially single women, with the latter focussing on the amount of wealth controlled by a very small number of individuals (85) that equals the amount of wealth controlled by 3 billion people, one half of the world's population.
Incubating billionaires is not the purpose of any economy, whether global or national. And Obama will also have the report of the World Economic Forum that points to the disparity in income as the greatest threat to world stability. That report also was released just last week. So there is a confluence of significant factors, reports, evidence and mounting political consciousness on this question of restoring the middle class. And while there is no single silver bullet to level the playing-field, the president's address will beam into millions of homes, offices and both government and corporate board rooms around the globe, and one can only hope that the influential voices in academe, government, corporate and NGO's will converge in many quarters to bring the world's attention to this growing crisis...and the pace of its growth is clearly not incremental, but exponential.
Obama's address tomorrow, could well be the last one he will deliver that will be unencumbered by the beat of many campaign drums leading up to the presidential election in 2016. Consequently, it could be the last opportunity for the president to "set an agenda" on which his legacy might be evaluated, by those thousands of doctoral dissertations that will inevitably follow his presidency.