President Obama Turns the Page

By Harry Catalani ‘17:

SOTUEmpowered by his rising approval ratings and seemingly unfazed by the new Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, President Obama declared in his sixth State of the Union address that it is time for the United States to “turn the page” after 15 years of terror, war, and economic recession. By emphasizing the lowest unemployment rate within the United States since the financial crisis began and the end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama hoped to reaffirm the notion that the State of the Union is strong.

Throughout his address to Congress, President Obama adopted a bipartisan tone while laying out his goals for this new year, a bipartisan tone mirrored by Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who gave the GOP response to the president’s speech. With the president and GOP highlighting the need for cooperation and bipartisanship, there is hope that the federal government will be less constrained by the gridlock that plagued the last Congress.

Typically, State of the Union addresses are overly ambitious as the incumbent president uses this platform to expand debate rather than to call for immediate and significant change. However, some of the goals President Obama called for during his speech included free community college, military action against Islamic State, diplomatic interactions with Cuba, efforts to curb climate change, and a more ambitious energy agenda.

It is very likely that we will see congressional action on at least a few of the goals set by President Obama. Specifically, by asking for a formal authorization of military force to use against Islamic State, the president is responding to the growing military threat in the Middle East and answering the criticism that claims he has not done enough to combat the radical Islamist group. Although he threatened to veto any bill regarding the Keystone Pipeline, he left the door open for different approaches towards energy independence, so as to garner support from both Republicans and Democrats.

A major segment of the speech was also dedicated to diplomacy, which included an end to the Cuban embargo and a refusal to sign economic sanctions against Iran. However, these measures may have difficulty gaining strong congressional support and, as such, could prove to be some of the highly ambitious goals that remain unrealized.

The president’s agenda for the new year has been laid out and the stage for the 114th Congress has been set. Regardless of whether or not all of the president’s goals are addressed by the new Congress, the most important thing to watch for this year is whether the calls for bipartisanship—made by both President Obama and the GOP—last long enough to prevent gridlock and turn the page towards a more efficient United States federal government.


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