As the president addresses the nation tonight in his State of the Union message he will be speaking to a nation in which 25 million people need jobs and the broad majority who do have jobs are earning less than they did four years ago.
Although there has been some rebound, income inequality is at an all-time high.
In light of these challenges President Obama is expected to make a case against the budget-slashing sequester scheduled for March 1. According to The Hill: "He will use the prime-time TV address to argue the economy would be damaged if $85 billion in automatic spending cuts were to go ahead on schedule on March 1, and will seek to set up Republicans to blame if they do."
There has been a continued drumbeat from Republicans about how rising health care costs are the main cause of deficits and how that will require big cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. The president's supporters point out how Obamacare, still only partially implemented, is already working to reduce the deficit. It's a point the president may well make tonight.
Labor unions and their allies say the nation's problem is a jobs deficit, not a budget deficit. They hope that recent moves by the administration are an indication that the president agrees.
The Washington Post notes that "in recent weeks, the White House has pressed the message that, if policymakers can agree on a strategy for replacing across-the-board cuts set to hit next month, Obama will pretty much have achieved what he has called 'our ultimate goal' of halting the rapid rise in government borrowing. ... Deficit hawks have reacted with alarm to the administration's position."
Sequester cuts would spell disaster for the economy.
Just looking at how it would affect the federal workforce tells the story. Some 800,000 employees in the Defense Department could be laid off. The total number of layoffs of federal workers could number over a million. The Federal Aviation Administration would see cuts in the number of air traffic controllers. Huge numbers of law enforcement officers would be furloughed and the National Science Foundation would have to lay off 12,000 scientists.
Despite an uncooperative Republican-run House, the president can enact some of his agenda via executive order. This is the case in various areas of concern, including the environment.
In his first term, for example, Obama, via executive order, gave a boost to green energy programs in the Defense Department and on public lands. He can still expand on these a great deal.
Environmentalists say that whatever the president actually says he will do tonight on the environment, he will need to actively use the power of his office to campaign for these steps. Unions and their allies, meanwhile, are saying that all the groups that formed the Obama reelection coalition will heave to remain active throughout the president's second term if a progressive agenda is to succeed.
Photo: People's World Flickr.