Last night, President Obama delivered his second-to-last State of the Union. As you’re probably aware, the president delivers an address to Congress at the beginning of each new year detailing his perception of how life in America has been progressing and areas in which he sees room for improvement. This speech precedes the release of the President’s formal budget proposal each year.
Watch the 2015 State of the Union here.
Read a transcript of the 2015 State of the Union here.
Watch the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union here.
In his speech, the President focused on what he termed “middle class economics.” Essentially, this is the idea that if people work hard and are given equal opportunities, our economy thrives. He addressed numerous issues including childcare, education, workers’ rights, energy and the environment, jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, veterans, race relations, and foreign policy. He stressed the importance of compromise and overcoming partisan gridlock in Congress.
Yet, thinking about the context of last night’s speech, there are a few important factors to keep in mind. First of all, Obama is now a lame duck president. This means that he no longer has to worry about running for reelection, nor does he really need to concern himself with the politics surrounding midterm elections. For this reason, he has little to lose politically based on the assertions he makes, so last night we saw him speak emphatically about his stance on some fairly divisive issues like immigration reform, health insurance, and Wall Street regulation. He even threatened to veto legislation he believes would be a step backwards in these areas. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November, giving them control of both chambers of Congress. The State of the Union is meant as a guide to give Congress a sense of the President’s priorities, but it is in no way legally binding. Because Republicans now hold the majority, it is unlikely they will follow many of the recommendations he laid out.
This year, President Obama has projected February 2nd, 2015 as the date he will present his formal budget for funding federal programs to Congress. Again, this budget is not legally binding and a republican Congress is unlikely to pay a great deal of attention to it when crafting legislation for appropriations. It will, however, provide further insight into the Administration’s priorities for the President’s last two years in office, and you can expect many of those priorities to mirror the ones laid out in his speech last night.
So, you’re probably wondering why this really matters to you. As an advocate, think about the issue or issues you care about. Did Obama mention them in his speech last night? Did he speak favorably about them? Are they divisive issues? Answering these questions will give you an idea of how you will need to talk to both democratic and republican Members of Congress about your issues. While their individual stances will be more nuanced, it is likely that, at least on the surface, democrats will agree with the President’s agenda and Republicans will oppose it. Understanding the state of our Union, as it stands, can help you craft your personal legislative advocacy plan for the final years of Obama’s presidency.