This post contributed by Terence Houston, Policy Analyst and Liza Lester, Communications Officer
President Obama’s 5th State of the Union address came after a year where Congress experienced an unprecedented amount of partisan gridlock and the first lengthy government shutdown in nearly 18 years. Consequently, the theme of President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address was a call to action on numerous legislative fronts.
The president made clear that 2014 will be a year of action, in not from the legislature, than certainly from the executive. “America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” said President Obama.
The president’s with-you-or-without-you tone received mixed reviews in Congress, currently enjoying a 19 percent approval rating. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) commented that he doesn’t like it, and as a former governor, “I don’t think it works,” at a Wednesday morning debrief, cosponsored by The Atlantic and the National Journal. “Watch this debt ceiling issue” to see how the President’s strategy plays out, he said.
But Congressman Aaron Shock (R-IL) saw opportunities to work with the president on transportation infrastructure, tax and immigration reforms, and on fast-tracking international trade agreements. Shock is not in favor of debt ceiling brinksmanship. He challenged his own leadership in the House to recognize a need for bipartisan legislation. “It behooves us to work with pragmatic, centrist Democrats,” he said, during the Wednesday debrief.
The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama. “This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones. That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.”
A representative of Research America asked Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) this morning about the climate in Congress for working with the President to “fix the damage” to research funding, noting the impact of the sequester on top of several years of stagnant federal science budgets. DeGette echoed the president’s statement that federally-supported science is a job creator necessary to keep the US at the forefront of science and technology. She feels hopeful that science funding will receive bipartisan support as our economy improves.
DeGette, a representative from a swing state with powerful energy interests, supports natural gas as a “transition fuel.” She also supports hydraulic fracking, but wants greater transparency from the industry, and stricter regulations. She would like to see the president take on comprehensive energy policy (she has co-sponsored legislation in this vein with Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)).
Hoeven expressed disappointment that the president did not address the Keystone XL pipeline in his speech. Hoeven said that the pipeline has been needlessly delayed, arguing that business reforms during his governorship in North Dakota led to a surge in fossil fuel, biofuel, and wind energy development, and a corresponding rise in employment.
The president touted the United States’ energy successes, such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet,” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama. “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”
President Obama also took the opportunity to address climate change skeptics. “Climate change is a fact,” said the president. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The full address is available for listening and reading here.
Photo Credit: The White House