Obama to Congress: Farewell

(Source: White House)

I was following the Republican presidential primaries in 1988 when Jack Kemp made an insightful comment to conclude a speech he was delivering to a Hispanic group in Corpus Christi:

“Ladies and gentlemen, our future lies ahead of us!”

The theme of Obama’s State of the Union address last night:

“My future lies ahead of me!”

Bring it on. Draft and sign executive decrees and put the federal agencies to work on regulations.

Obama’s speech was a long-overdue farewell to Congress and a statement that he will go it on his own.

Not that he has a choice.

Again, this is the most dysfunctional, oppositional, and extreme Congress (in particular the House of Representatives) in modern history.

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two devout congressional institutionalists and career congressional scholars, would not have gone so far in their critique had this Congress not been so abysmally bad. And the two scholars place the blame squarely on the shoulders of one political party:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise, unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

Those two paragraphs—which cannot be reprinted or reposted enough—were the backstory to the speech the president gave last night. The State of the Union address was a litany of congressional failures and a list of what Obama will try to salvage.

A few examples:

• Gun regulation: “I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”

• Health care: “But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.”

• Unemployment insurance: “But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

• Minimum wage: “In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.”

• Job training: “It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.”

• Immigration: “Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement—and fix our broken immigration system.”

• Tax reform: “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation.”

While promising to use his executive authority to achieve as much as is possible, Obama failed to mention the area in which he can make the greatest lasting difference, and on which his EPA is working. Curbing greenhouse gas emissions through rules written by a federal agency under the authority of the Clean Air Act.

The critical pieces are in place for Obama to make modest but necessary changes by executive decree. Most notably three appointees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which shifted the ideological balance from extreme right to center. The court will hear challenges to the president’s executive actions, and Senate Republicans, who know what’s coming, were blocking his appointees. The confirmation of two of the three judges who finally shifted the court’s balance required Senate Democrats to rewrite the filibuster rule.

The addition of Phil Schiliro and John Podesta to the White House means that two of Washington’s best congressional and executive branch operatives will be working on the what remains of the president’s agenda.

So bring it on. Draft and sign executive decrees and put the federal agencies to work on regulations.

Our future lies ahead of us.

Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator

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