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Sunday, December 11, 2016

In less than 24 hours, President Barack Obama will have a chance to push his agenda forward and set the tone for the next year, when he delivers his 2014 State of the Union address.

Already considered a “lame duck” by some, the president’s approval ratings have dropped from their post-election highs over the past 12 months.

The address will allow the president the opportunity to once again take control of the narrative on major issues like income inequality, education reform, immigration reform, and climate change.

Though the speech will surely highlight Obama’s top priorities, for some it will serve as validation for one of the greatest criticisms people have of the president: That he cannot get anything done, and the proof is that the issues certain to come up in the speech are those that were prevalent in his 2013 State of the Union address.

Others, however, lay the blame for the lack of progress on the president’s agenda at the feet of the “least productive” Congress in recent history.

It is no surprise, then, that the speech will likely feature a vow from President Obama to use executive orders to bypass the gridlocked Congress and push forward key legislation.

“The president views the power of his presidency in two areas: his pen, which is the executive orders, the presidential memorandums, [and] also the phone, where what he can do is he can pick up the phone, bring together American citizens and businesses to commit on key issues,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior advisor, said on Sunday’s edition of CNN’s State of the Union.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney more directly hinted that the president would use executive action “where necessary.”

“Where necessary” will most likely include areas concerning job creation and training, unemployment insurance, and the minimum wage. In recent months, the widening gap between the rich and the poor has prompted the president to speak out in support of initiatives meant to boost jobs across the nation, establish a decent living wage, and protect long-term unemployed Americans.

Specifically, the president will probably introduce plans for more infrastructure spending that Democrats argue will boost the economy. Just two weeks ago, the announcement of a $140 million conglomerate of companies and universities – the “Next Generation Power Electronics Institute” — at North Carolina State University provided a glimpse of what is to come. The president said the institute will “develop the next generation of energy-efficient electronic chips and devices,” will serve as a “hub to lift up our communities,” and “spark the technology and research that will create the new industries” and the “good jobs.” In his address, the president is expected to suggest similar proposals that will involve greater spending in areas concerning energy and job stimulus, reflecting his words in North Carolina: “Where I can act, on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so.”

Unemployment benefits and the minimum wage – issues on which Americans seem to side with Democrats, regardless of their own ideology – are sure to come up as well. It will not be the first time the president urges Congress to act on either issue, but the speech could also include a vow from the president to extend the benefits and raise the minimum wage if Congress waits too long or refuses to do either.

According to a letter sent out over the weekend from Pfeiffer to Obama supporters, “when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress.”

Aside from issues related to the economy, the president will also address education reform – he is expected to suggest an expansion of pre-kindergarten education, an idea that failed to gain traction after being brought up in 2013 –  and climate change, an issue on which he has not been shy about taking executive action.

For 2014, President Obama could introduce – and order – new limits on methane emissions from gas-drilling sites and other locations.

Of course, immigration reform will also be among the issues mentioned in the speech. However, Obama — whom Pfeiffer says will “work with Congress” when he can — will probably steer clear of an executive order warning, considering that Republicans now say they are more open to passing comprehensive immigration reform through a piecemeal approach.

Even so, the idea of the president using executive orders to advance any part of his agenda is enough to upset the GOP. In anticipation of the speech, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has said that “it sounds vaguely like a threat” and “also has a certain amount of arrogance.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the president “has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy as opposed to moving to the political center.”

For President Obama, however, the State of the Union address serves as a subtle warning of what may come if the Republican Party fails to move to the very “political center” McConnell claims Obama has neglected. The question is not whether the GOP will disapprove of the agenda put forward by the president, but whether he will actually move forward on the issues he raises in the address.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

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