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Obama Trying to Set Traps in the State of the Union

Did the president build a better one? (photo: Evan-Amos)

[Programming note: FDL will have team coverage of tonight’s state of the Union, with liveblogs of the President’s speech, as well as both Republican responses, starting at 9pm Eastern time.]

Based on all the briefings and insider chatter, we know that the President will push for a vague list of goals in the speech, rather than specific policies. Since nothing positive is likely to pass a Republican Congress, I guess Obama thinks it better to couch things in more general terms and let Congress debate the details. And you will have these “five pillars” to contend with:

Attendees were told, as ABC News and others have reported, that the theme of the speech is “How We Win the Future,” a subject for which the president will outline five pillars: innovation, education, infrastructure, tackling the national debt, and government reform.

The Democrats were encouraged to challenge Republicans to govern, to ask “Where’s their plan to govern? What specific spending cuts do they support?”

We know that the debate over spending cuts on the right is undetermined and the subject a of an inter-party scrum between the establishment leadership and the tea party rank and file. So there’s no clarity even on how much they would cut, let alone what specific programs. To reach the numbers preferred by the tea party right, you’d have to cut FBI investigators or cancer research or a whole host of other popular programs. The fact that all the Republican Study Committee cuts come in the 15% of the budget labeled non-security discretionary spending makes it unattractive to even those inclined to want to cut the deficit, because it’s just irrelevant to the problem and impossible for garnering the savings needed to balance the budget. [cont’d.]

Meanwhile, you also have this infrastructure piece, which Republicans are unlikely to put into action, because any new spending is necessarily evil. But this could get them in a bit of trouble with their own business base, which would welcome the opportunity to create new jobs through building and attending to tangible government needs. The frame of public works as long-term investments in economic growth is a pretty good one, and Obama will call for a national infrastructure bank, which I’ve written about previously, to parcel out money to those projects, presumably in a merit-based capacity. There is a vehicle, in the form of a new transportation bill, that could be put to these ends. I’ve even heard one or two Republicans talk about increases in the gas tax to fund infrastructure, though the President doesn’t necessarily support that. So there is some give on this policy, although Michael Cooper makes the key point:

In Washington, the Obama administration’s priorities for expanding mass transit, passenger rail and what planners call “livability” is likely to be challenged by Republicans in Congress, who tend to represent more rural areas than Democrats, with more spread-out populations and different needs — a trend that gathered steam after the midterm elections. The median Democratic Congressional district is now 11 times as densely populated as the median Republican district, according to an analysis by Transportation Weekly, a trade publication that focuses on federal transportation spending. That kind of disparity can have big ramifications when it comes to deciding how much federal transportation money should be spent on, say, mass transit instead of highways.

But infrastructure investment is also a clear jobs issue, one that unites big business and labor. There aren’t many issues that have been endorsed by both Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commece. So while that doesn’t mean Republicans will support it, they may take a lot of heat for refusing to do so. Eric Cantor was forced in a press conference to say that the current state of infrastructure is poor, and that transportation hubs like New York hold the key to our aviation infrastructure. So there’s going to be some pressure here.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances, this is about the best that can be hoped for – distract Republicans from their mission to destroy government with little traps here and there, making it a bit easier to protect anything that’s not nailed down.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Obama Trying to Set Traps in the State of the Union

Based on all the briefings and insider chatter, we know that the President will push for a vague list of goals in the speech, rather than specific policies. Since nothing positive is likely to pass a Republican Congress, I guess Obama thinks it better to couch things in more general terms and let Congress debate the details. And you will have these “five pillars” to contend with:

Attendees were told, as ABC News and others have reported, that the theme of the speech is “How We Win the Future,” a subject for which the president will outline five pillars: innovation, education, infrastructure, tackling the national debt, and government reform.

The Democrats were encouraged to challenge Republicans to govern, to ask “Where’s their plan to govern? What specific spending cuts do they support?”

We know that the debate over spending cuts on the right is undetermined and the subject a of an inter-party scrum between the establishment leadership and the tea party rank and file. So there’s no clarity even on how much they would cut, let alone what specific programs. To reach the numbers preferred by the tea party right, you’d have to cut FBI investigators or cancer research or a whole host of other popular programs. The fact that all the Republican Study Committee cuts come in the 15% of the budget labeled non-security discretionary spending makes it unattractive to even those inclined to want to cut the deficit, because it’s just irrelevant to the problem and impossible for garnering the savings needed to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, you also have this infrastructure piece, which Republicans are unlikely to put into action, because any new spending is necessarily evil. But this could get them in a bit of trouble with their own business base, which would welcome the opportunity to create new jobs through building and attending to tangible government needs. The frame of public works as long-term investments in economic growth is a pretty good one, and Obama will call for a national infrastructure bank, which I’ve written about previously, to parcel out money to those projects, presumably in a merit-based capacity. There is a vehicle, in the form of a new transportation bill, that could be put to these ends. I’ve even heard one or two Republicans talk about increases in the gas tax to fund infrastructure, though the President doesn’t necessarily support that. So there is some give on this policy, although Michael Cooper makes the key point:

In Washington, the Obama administration’s priorities for expanding mass transit, passenger rail and what planners call “livability” is likely to be challenged by Republicans in Congress, who tend to represent more rural areas than Democrats, with more spread-out populations and different needs — a trend that gathered steam after the midterm elections. The median Democratic Congressional district is now 11 times as densely populated as the median Republican district, according to an analysis by Transportation Weekly, a trade publication that focuses on federal transportation spending. That kind of disparity can have big ramifications when it comes to deciding how much federal transportation money should be spent on, say, mass transit instead of highways.

But infrastructure investment is also a clear jobs issue, one that unites big business and labor. There aren’t many issues that have been endorsed by both Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commece. So while that doesn’t mean Republicans will support it, they may take a lot of heat for refusing to do so. Eric Cantor was forced in a press conference to say that the current state of infrastructure is poor, and that transportation hubs like New York hold the key to our aviation infrastructure. So there’s going to be some pressure here.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances, this is about the best that can be hoped for – distract Republicans from their mission to destroy government with little traps here and there, making it a bit easier to protect anything that’s not nailed down.

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David Dayen

David Dayen