In this Jan. 17, 2014, file photo, President Barack Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance in Washington. Tonight he delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill and is expected to warn Congress he will act alone if it can't pass legislation. Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press
U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the annual state of the union address tonight, a speech that will lay out his vision for what the White House is calling “a year of action.”
A divided Congress has meant a lot of inaction on key proposals made in Obama’s 2013 state of the union address and as a result he’s now indicating he’s willing to bypass Congress to get things done in 2014.
Immigration and gun control reforms were among the items on Obama’s to-do list last year that ended up stalling in Congress. He used his executive power to tweak some gun laws and it’s a tactic the White House is warning Obama is set to use more often in other areas such as the economy and the environment.
"In this year of action, the president will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way. But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress," Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser at the White House, wrote in a blog post.
"President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American — business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country — in the project to restore opportunity for all."
Pfeiffer said it will be an "optimistic speech" and that opportunity, action and optimism are the three words that sum it up.
There are a few likely topics that Obama will raise when he speaks to the joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill at 9 p.m. ET. Income inequality is a theme the White House has latched onto and the president will talk about what he wants done to close the gap between rich and poor.
Obama favours minimum wage hike
Raising the federal minimum wage is a call Obama made in last year’s address and one he will make again this year, advocating for it to go up to $10.10 per hour. Obama is also in favour of extending unemployment benefits to those who lost them when a program expired in late December. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate argued over a bill to extend the compensation but in the end failed to reach an agreement.
The president will likely talk about education and college affordability, another theme the White House has been pushing, and tie its importance to economic mobility. Another idea that Obama will likely repeat in this year’s speech is making good quality preschool available to every child in the U.S.
Beyond economic initiatives, Obama will likely pinpoint the environment as an area where he intends to move ahead without Congress.
“I want to work with Congress whenever and wherever I can, but the one thing I'm emphasizing to all my cabinet members is we're not going to wait. Where Congress is debating things and hasn't been able to pull the trigger on stuff, my administration is going to move forward and we're going to do it in partnership with all of you,” Obama told a gathering of mayors at the White House last Thursday when talking about reducing pollution. “I've got a pen and I've got a phone. And that's all I need.”
A difficult 2013 for president
But Obama does need to appeal to Congress to help move some parts of his agenda forward, such as immigration reform, and he will likely plead for the Senate and House to break the deadlocks they so often find themselves in when it comes to passing legislation.
After a difficult 2013 for the president that involved the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden and the disastrous rollout of the signature website for the Affordable Care Act, the 2014 state of the union is a chance for Obama to try and turn the page and start a fresh year.
The Republicans will be quick to respond to the speech and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the chosen one to give the party’s official response this year. She’s a high-ranking Republican but she will have some competition from fellow members of her party including Senator Mike Lee who will analyze the speech on behalf of the Tea Party. Senator Rand Paul also plans to record a video response to post on his website.