Obama's State of the Union address: Tax cuts, a good economy, a tough GOP room
Jan 20, 2015 | 8:40 PM
Middle-class tax cuts, a good economy and ISIS are some of the topics President Obama discussed tonight. He was looking into a crowd mostly of Republicans, who now are the majority in both chambers. He offered veto threats and boasted of his two presidential election wins. Read reactions and analysis from Los Angeles Times staffers.
On Tuesday night, Republicans sought to turn President Obama's determination to focus on economic fairness against him, saying he was abandoning past pledges of cooperation.
“The American people have spoken,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters before Obama delivered his speech. “I think they expect us to sort out the things that we can agree on and try to make some bipartisan progress.”
Instead, McConnell said, Obama has “indicated he's not for much of anything the American people voted for last November.”
President Obama gave his State of the Union address before the first entirely GOP-controlled Congress in a decade and more Republican opponents than at any point in his time in office. Still, he saved his gestures toward compromise and bipartisan outreach for well into his speech.
Obama made an appeal for “a better politics” and assailed “gotcha moments” between partisan rivals, but he seemed to do little else to ease the tension.
His speech was not aimed at political centrism. Buoyed by rising public approval and an improving economy, aides have said the president is eager to use the moment to show the public — and Washington — that he won’t go quietly.
Watch the full Republican response to the State of the Union
Watch the full State of the Union
The State of the Union is a chance to start anew, but all the president offered tonight is more taxes, more government, and more of the same approach that has failed middle-class families. These aren’t just the wrong policies, they’re the wrong priorities: growing Washington’s bureaucracy instead of America’s economy.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
A call for cooperation, plus some divisive issues
In her speech, Sen. Joni Ernst urged President Obama to work with the Republican Party on the economy and other topics. She also brought up some specific issues.
Keystone as a generator of "good American jobs" laid at the White House door by @SenJoniErnst, despite iffy projections of longterm impact.
"Rather than respond to a speech," Ernst said early on, "I'd like to talk about your priorities. I'd like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again."
.@joniernst dispenses of Obama quickly before truly making it a GOP address to the nation, and not a GOP response.
In his speech, President Obama wasn't afraid to reject ideas he didn't like.
“We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” Obama said.
That's three veto threats in one paragraph. And this time, Obama doesn't even ask Congress to send him an immigration bill.
President Obama announced he's "launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes — and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier."
Let's give that a little context.
One man's "access to personalized information we need" to stay healthy is another's Big Data grab of personal medical info, no?
The president just highlighted his recently announced plan to make community college free or nearly free for anyone who wants to go. This chart shows how enrollment in two-and-four-year-colleges has increased.
Near the beginning of his speech, Obama said, “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” The above chart shows the difference between income for the top 1 % and the bottom 90 % in the United States since 1990.
Sen. Joni Ernst, the first woman ever elected to Congress from Iowa, will give the Republican response.
So who is she?
Ernst pulled off a shocker in the November election, beating her Democratic opponent in the blue state by an 8-point margin. A self-described farm girl, she emphasized her stance against pork-barrel spending with a campaign ad that said, “Let’s make ’em squeal.”
Obama will propose an overhaul of capital gains and dividends taxes. His plan would eliminate a rule known as the “stepped-up basis” that can leave much of the value of inherited assets and trust funds exempt from income and capital gains taxes. He also will propose increasing the capital gains and dividends tax rate from 23.8% to 28% for couples earning more than $500,000 a year.
As if Americans needed further proof that bipartisanship is hard to come by in Congress, it can be found in the seats of the House chamber tonight.
2011 saw the start of a short-lived tradition that became known as “date night”: breaking up the usual partisan seating assignments for the president’s speech, with lawmakers of both parties pairing up to sit together instead of on opposite sides of the aisle. It began weeks after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was critically wounded in an assassination attempt.
Now the tradition is all but dead.
Possibly the last pair of holdouts will be Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), close friends who planned to sit together tonight, a spokesman for Manchin said.
Above, an image from the first "date night" in 2011.
President Obama will declare tonight that the “verdict is clear” that his economic policies have been good for the country during a State of the Union address that argues for keeping the course for the rest of his presidency.
“Middle-class economics works,” Obama is to say, according to speech excerpts released Tuesday in advance of his address. “Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Obama’s speech will include a proposal for free community college, expanded child-care tax credits, a push for paid leave and a proposed tax increase on the wealthy to help pay for programs the White House argues will help a battered middle class participate in the economic turnaround.
“At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Obama is to say. “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years, and for decades to come.”
The White House has released some parts of the speech. Here is what Obama is expected to say about the Sony hack, an data breach that disrupted the release of "The Interview" and that the FBI blames on North Korea:
“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”
While most of the nation's leaders will be in one place tonight, a lone cabinet secretary will be left behind, squirreled away in an undisclosed location, poised to become president if a calamity were to wipe out everyone in the chamber, writes ABC News.
Because of security concerns, the “designated survivor” is not announced until shortly before the speech. But according to interviews with former designees, it’s a sobering job.
The specifics remain classified, but former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson says it’s an extensive undertaking, with staff referring to the designated survivor as “Mr. President.”
“We did drills,” he says. “We would role-play it -- and in that role, I was president.”
The State of the Union address is a century-old tradition that has served to set the president’s agenda for the coming year and reflect on the previous one in front of Congress and the country.
But in 2015, just giving a speech in prime time is no longer enough. The platform that introduced to the world the Four Freedoms and the War on Poverty is now a Twitter-friendly, YouTube-able event to be consumed in as many ways as Americans have screens.
“Social media is killing the State of the Union,” presidential historian Allan Lichtman said, “and the White House is doing everything it can to use social media to keep it alive.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is certainly anticipating President Obama’s speech.
“We look forward to hearing what he has to say,” the Republican from Kentucky says, smiling, in a video posted on YouTube today.
Then he shares some thoughts about what he’d like to hear — many of which would be very surprising to hear from Obama. The Keystone XL pipeline bill, which the president has promised to veto, figures into it. You can watch the video above.
For years, police had been trying to reduce neighborhood crime in Watts by arresting their way out it. But LAPD Capt. Phil Tingirides and his wife Sgt. Emada Tingirides said that technique just wasn’t working.
In a mission to work closely with community leaders and its residents, police tried a different approach: fewer arrests, more relationship building.
Now their efforts are about to be recognized on a national level. They will be honored tonight for their work with the Community Safety Partnership program.
There is a lot of talk that reforming the tax code may be one issue on which congressional Republicans and the president can find common ground. Even that modestly cheery possibility, though, seems remote. Though both sides would like to tinker with the tax code to give some relief to the middle class, Obama and the Democrats want to pay for it by making those at the very top of the economic ladder share a slightly larger piece of their vast wealth. Republicans don’t want to make up for lost revenues at all, unless it is by squeezing government programs such as food stamps and environmental protection even more than they have been.
Each member of congress typically is allowed to bring a single guest to the Capitol for the prime-time address. Many lawmakers prefer to sideline their families and friends for more politically targeted invitations.
An Alabama lawmaker invited a 103-year-old voting-rights pioneer, who is portrayed in the movie "Selma."
A doctor who has treated Ebola patients will join a senator from Nebraska; the father of one of the Isla Vista shooting victims was invited; and several Cuban pro-democracy activists will also be guests in the gallery.
A mom who is an immigrant living in the U.S. illegally will be the guest of a California congressman.
Even though Obama has robbed the event of suspense by unveiling many of his policy ideas ahead of time there is a good reason to gather the family around the television to see what the president actually says.
The impact of the speech won’t come solely from what Obama says, but also from how he says it.
Will the speech be a fiery, Republican-lambasting campaign stemwinder? Or will he give equal time to the more prosaic issues on which a measure of bipartisan cooperation is still possible?
We can expect weeks or months of Washington debate about the vices and virtues of the tax breaks held dear by many segments of the taxpaying public.
In the past, the most prominent tax breaks have generally been treated as equals--the mortgage deduction is pretty much the same as, say, the capital gains preference or the charitable contributions write-off.
But they're not equal, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik.
Representatives of the 1%--and that's a distressingly large component of Congress--have staved off tax reforms oriented toward the middle and working class by painting tax increases on the wealthy as attacks on the middle. The State of the Union address gives Obama a chance to make the true stakes crystal clear.
President Obama is expected to focus on “middle-class economics” in his speech today unveiling a message designed to challenge newly empowered Republicans on economic policy in the final two years of his presidency.
The president will call on Congress to raise taxes on top earners and impose a new fee on large financial firms to pay for tax credits aimed at lower- and middle-class families, White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer revealed Sunday. The $320 billion in new revenue would be used to pay for expanded higher education benefits, child care tax credits and retirement programs.
Pfeiffer said the plans are not tailored to appeal to Republicans, who took complete control of Congress this month.
Every year since he took office, President Obama has given a speech to the nation outlining his agenda for the next year. The Wall Street Journal looks at the proposals the president has made in those six speeches – and whether they have been accomplished, along with key promises from each of Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Obama's approval rating with the public has clearly risen enough to be consistently measurable and politically important.
The increases aren't huge -- on average, Obama has gone from approval in the low 40s during the run-up to the midterm elections to a position in the middle to high 40s in the most recent surveys -- but they add up.
Even though Obama won't be running for office again, that trend matters. To preserve his policies against assault from the Republican Congress, Obama needs to rely on unity among Democrats. He's far more likely to get that support if members of Congress see his approval with the public as steady or rising.
Guests of First Lady Michelle Obama include CVS CEO Larry J. Merlo, astronaut Scott Kelly, newly released Cuban prisoner Alan Gross and letter-writer Rebekah Erler. About two dozen guests will be seated with her. We talk about each one.