Since winning re-election, Obama's approach toward Congress, and particularly the Republican Party, has been notable for its combativeness. Instead of huddling with lawmakers behind the scenes, Obama has used his bully pulpit and campaign-style events around the country to sell his agenda on everything from gun control to raising taxes. The strategy is to get popular opinion on his side, then force the GOP to compromise. And it appears Obama will turn to that playbook once again during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, according to Glenn Thrush at Politico:
Emboldened by electoral victory and convinced the GOP is unwilling to cut deals, Obama plans to use his big prime-time address Tuesday night to issue another broad challenge at a Republican Party he regards as vulnerable and divided, Democrats close to Obama say.
When POLITICO asked how Obama is approaching the speech compared with his previous State of the Union addresses, a person close to the process of drafting the speech replied with a 2,500-year-old quote from Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu:
"Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across." [Politico]
The most pressing issue facing Congress is the sequester: $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect at the end of the month. Obama has proposed replacing the sequester with a modest deficit-reduction package of spending cuts and new tax revenues, while Republican lawmakers demand that Obama commit only to deep cuts that economists say could stymie the economic recovery.
Obama will reportedly sell his plan hard on Tuesday, with the aim of putting the GOP, once again, in the uncomfortable position of defending policies that could hurt the economy in the short term. Furthermore, he plans to go on the road in the days following the State of the Union, holding rallies in North Carolina, Georgia, and Chicago to build public support for his proposals.
And that's not Obama's only attempt to circumvent the GOP. According to Zachary A. Goldfarb at The Washington Post:
President Obama is considering a series of new executive actions aimed at working around a recalcitrant Congress, including policies that could allow struggling homeowners to refinance their mortgages, provide new protections for gays and lesbians, make buildings more energy-efficient and toughen regulations for coal-fired power plants, according to people outside the White House involved in discussions on the issues…
These and other potential actions suggest that Obama is likely to rely heavily on executive powers to set domestic policy in his second term. One White House official said that while the president does not see the actions as substitutes for more substantial legislation, he also wants to move forward on top priorities. [The Washington Post]
Of course, Obama's aggressive posture has its risks. The public may dislike his bare-knuckled, partisan approach, while executive orders could alienate Republicans on other issues for which legislative action is necessary. However, the strategy has worked for him so far, at least on raising taxes on the wealthy and building broad support for certain gun control measures.
More importantly, liberal commentators say his policies reflect the wishes of an emerging majority that neither identifies with the GOP nor supports its positions, minimizing the potential for serious political fallout. As Greg Sargent at The Washington Post says:
If Obama makes good on the threat to be aggressive, there will be a great deal of gnashing of teeth among Republicans — and even neutral commentators — about his lack of "bipartisan outreach." But Obama's victory demonstrates that there is an emerging majority coalition of minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, especially women, that broadly shares his vision of governing. As Ron Brownstein recently detailed, this coalition is ascendant, and it is in Obama's interests to keep speaking directly to these voters. [The Washington Post]