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News Analysis: Obama's State of Union address unlikely to prompt action in Congress

English.news.cn   2014-01-28 17:01:48

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday at a time when the passage of any major legislation is unlikely.

Obama's job approval has dropped sharply on the botched rollout of his signature healthcare overhaul legislation, or Obamacare, and the U.S. labor participation rate is at a decades-long low nearly five years into the recovery from the worst recession in decades.

Moreover, Obama's poor relations with Republicans in Congress make unlikely the passage of any second-term legislation, with some experts pinning the blame on the White House and others saying Republicans are hesitant to work with Obama for fear of ticking off their conservative base.

As such, the speech will mark the start of a White House race to pass any legislation it can in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm Congressional elections, which are expected to go poorly for Democrats, Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

The president will use the address to ignite his Democratic base, O'Connell said, and experts expect a potpourri of agenda items such as raising the minimum wage, with the president highlighting the country's growing income inequality in a bid to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The address will be followed by trips to Nashville, Milwaukee, Maryland and Pittsburgh to garner support for this year's agenda, with the president later expected to outline new proposals to help the long-term unemployed -- those without jobs for longer than 27 weeks, the White House said.

Going forward, however, any major legislative overhauls appear unlikely, although there may be some movement on immigration, as House Speaker John Boehner has said he wants to move immigration reform.

"Part of the reason that Obama's approval rating is low is that the country is very divided," Michael Heaney, assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan, told Xinhua.

That is reflected in Congress, with both parties more interested in winning political points than they are in winning policy victories, experts said.

"That creates a very tough policy environment," Heaney said.

While the president will try to work with lawmakers, he will issue executive orders if Congress turns down his legislative proposals, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told U.S. media on Sunday. Critics question the constitutional legality of Obama bypassing Congress in such a way.

While most major economic achievements occur in a president's first term, second-term legislative breakthroughs have happened from time to time, although they were somewhat rare.

"Whoever the president is, their support base erodes in the second term, so it's harder for them to get policy victories," Heaney said, adding that legislation is easiest for any president to pass in the first two years of his first term and becomes more difficult thereafter.

"There's still some possibility that Congress can make some important policy changes, but probably not on big issues," he said.

Whether or not the speech rallies supporters, Obama is unlikely to see an overall boost in popular support, as State of the Union addresses have rarely resulted in a surge in approval numbers.

"It would surprise me to see much of a change in the president's approval ratings on the basis of the State of the Union, or on the basis of any one single speech, " Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua.

"As much as presidents and their speechwriters like to think the right speech can move public opinion, there's a lot of political science research that shows presidents have very little power to do that through their words," he said.

Editor: Shen Qing
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