Even before presidents become lame ducks, their State of the Union Address proposals often don’t materialize.
President Barack Obama is one of five lame ducks with the opposition party in power. So what will he try to achieve with the 2015 State of the Union Address?
Will it be to frame a legacy? To tee up issues to ignite 2016 partisan battle with Republicans?
Either way, in his 2015 State of the Union Address, the programs President Obama outlines would enlarge government power and increase hiring costs, both of which undermine any fairness or income inequality themes he espouses.
Apart from some apparent agreement on trade and cybersecurity, we will hear of many billions in new spending and programs that the Republican Congress will not pass.
So it’s very likely Obama will reiterate his intent to grow government with executive “pen and phone” actions. He knows government growth ratchets upward not downward and that Republicans are ultimately unlikely to change his unilateral moves (health law changes, immigration executive actions, Cuba policy re-direction–whatever one thinks of their merits).
Obama’s middle class tax credit proposals (for parents, workers and students) are one thing, but he packages them to aggravate class warfare. Back again is the refrain “ask the wealthy to pay a little more.” Nowhere does he point to where he’d reduce government to allow the credits.
Obama’s proposed two years of free community college and enlarged paid work leave would undermine individual and family responsibility while massively empowering the federal political class. These are individual, and then community, locality and state concerns rather than federal.
“Leaked” early, Obama knew he could rely on media praising the State of the Union proposals in the runup (and that they will reinforce them in 2016) as they did with Obama’s earlier SoTU dig at CEO salaries.
Democracy’s cardinal virtue (the vote), and its cardinal vice (envy), combine to seduce the population to embrace larger government.
Ironically, Obama would deposit his ”14th grade” graduates into a over-regulated nation where hiring has been made riskier and perhaps even a bad decision altogether compared to keeping payrolls down or automating. How many among those cheering the proposals are personally hiring anyone?
We can sum up Obama’s 2015 State of the Union proposals in five words: More spending, dependency–and regulation.
Obama’s are spending proposals, but some are regulatory as well, such as the paid workplace leave proposal. The president cannot deny it would affect hiring decisions if enacted. Like the minimum wage, beneficiaries get profiled on NPR; others remain out of work, suffering unseen. In free economies, salary and labor markets figure in such concerns on an individualized or localized basis.
Obama will also talk about requiring employers to offer IRAs, even to part timers. But individuals can pursue this on their own.
The possibility of a market crash would argue against imposing this idea, as noted by the same folks opposed to privatizing Social Security. But the IRA proposal expands government control, while liberalizing Social Security would lessen it. So the political class likes the first, not the second.
Wealth-transfers, redistribution and regulation are not instruments of fairness and opportunity. Policymakers could enlarge freedom by the percentages Obama proposes to curtail it.
Indeed, just as Obama’s SoTU is his attempt to set up GOP pins for a 2016 “war on the middle-class” bowling lane, Republicans have their own parallel opportunity to “embarrass” Obama given his expressed intentions to veto job-oriented legislation.
But they’re not as skilled or unified.
In fact, Obama can count on contradictions in Republicans’ presumed support for economic liberty and exploit that, too. There’s an odd bipartisan consensus that, while incompetent to make paper clips, the federal government should nonetheless spearhead things like “basic” research, cybersecurity policy, education funding, green and renewable energy, infrastructure and education funding. Obama will likely tout his ”manufacturing hubs” again in the State of the Union Address.
I expect joint applause on some big projects (although I doubt the phrases “shovel ready” or “ you didn’t build that!” will be uttered).
But if Republicans think government can do these complex things, then why can’t it steer K-12/community college education, retirement and health care? So government grows.
Relatedly, Obama will tout government owned broadband networks, when a core function of government leadership is to prevent government competition with the private sector. Even in the worst instance, you wouldn’t replace private monopoly with a protected government one; you’d instead address the monopoly franchise grant, certificates of convenience and necessity, broader right-of-way reform, and other policies.
More spending, dependency and regulation; with these, Obama is both framing his legacy, and feeding partisan battle.
But look on the bright side. At least having others pay for our kids’ 14th grade schooling helps defray the cost of their staying on our insurance until age 26, per Obamacare.