Last Tuesday, President Obama made his annual State of the Union address. In it, he made many promises, he pledged to raise the minimum wage for those contracted to the federal government, to create a new tax-free savings bond to encourage Americans to save, and to work for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison. But perhaps his most surprising promise to America’s legislature was to bypass it. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he vowed. This year, he said, will be “a year of action.” President Obama’s statement has created a strong and much needed impetus for some bipartisanship in Congress—and the Republicans should meet him halfway.
During the address, Obama frequently acknowledged the necessity of legislative support to fulfill his goal of creating more opportunity for the American people. Specifically, he discussed extended unemployment benefits and a higher minimum wage for all workers, and how it should receive support but, in the Republican-controlled House, probably won’t.
Yet, other bills do have a chance at being passed. Bills like updating patent law, authority to pursue tariff-slashing trade deals in Asia and Europe and Obama’s pitch for housing finance reform should also be able to gain GOP backing. The president proposed expanding the earned-income tax credit to include childless workers, which would improve work incentives and lift many single men and women out of poverty. This idea also has the virtue, politically, of taking what was originally a GOP program and reshaping it in a way that is similar to recent anti-poverty proposals from Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
If Republicans truly care about poverty and inequality like they say they do, they will meet the President half way. Immigration reform is another area where both parties should be able to find common ground.
Though one could argue that Obama’s declaration to bypass the legislative branch is a breach of Presidential powers and not in the best interest of the American people, executive orders have been much more prevalent in past presidencies, most notably in George W. Bush’s. But if the Republicans believe their political duties require them to reject everything President Obama favors, as seems to be the case thus far, it would be easy to pick out materials in this speech to defend their unwillingness to work with the President.
However, if they would rather work for the people that elected them and achieve something, the president has presented multiple opportunities that don’t involve moving away from traditional party ideals. Because of the intense division in government, and that the Constitution precludes either legislative or executive single party rule—bipartisanship is crucial.