Tonight at 9pm ET, the President will deliver the State of the Union Address at the beginning of his run for re-election. Unlike Obama’s other addresses to joint sessions of Congress I wouldn’t expect this one to produce much in the way of a legislative blueprint. It’s an election year and most of the major issues will be determined by the outcome of that election. The President will instead try to set the agenda for the fall campaign with this speech, and the early excerpts show his focus on an economy “built to last.” Not unlike a Ford truck.
Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.
Building off his speech in Owasatomie, Kansas, the President will offer a moderately populist vision designed to highlight the issue of income inequality and the need to overhaul the tax code to remedy this. The fact that Warren Buffett’s secretary, who pays a higher tax rate than Buffett, will be in the First Lady’s box tonight is a testament to this. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” the President will say. “What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”
The President will also call out Republican obstruction, an extension of his “We Can’t Wait” campaign and his general willingness to go around Congress, using them as a foil in the elections. He will frame the debate as a choice between a hopeful future and a past full of economic woes, including “outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.” His future includes sections on “American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”
Perhaps most important to this space, there will be a section reserved for housing issues, where a President can still have a real impact without Congress. The weak programs so far to mitigate the foreclosure crisis, and a proposed settlement that gives banks legal immunity for a pittance inspires no confidence that this impact will be realized. But this advance excerpt hints at something a bit more:
Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.
I’ve seen no evidence of this America over the last decade but perhaps the President will have something to announce along those lines tonight.
Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who is trying to bully through a union-busting right-to-work law amid a boycott from legislative Democrats, will deliver the Republican response.
UPDATE: There’s late-breaking news that the speech will include an announcement on a new mortgage crisis unit co-chaired by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:
During his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama will announce the creation of a special unit to investigate misconduct and illegalities that contributed to both the financial collapse and the mortgage crisis.
The office, part of a new Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses, will be chaired by Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, according to a White House official.
Schneiderman is an increasingly beloved figure among progressives for his criticism of a proposed settlement between the 50 state attorneys generals and the five largest banks. His presence atop this new special unit could give it immediate legitimacy among those who have criticized the president for being too hesitant in going after the banks and resolving the mortgage crisis. He will be in attendance at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
“The goal of this joint investigation will be threefold: to hold accountable any institutions that violated the law; to compensate victims and help provide relief for homeowners struggling from the collapse of the housing market, caused in part by this wrongdoing; and to help us finally turn the page on this destructive period in our nation’s history,” reads a White House document outlining the objectives.
“This is a big achievement and something the entire progressive advocacy community wanted [with respect to] housing policy,” added the White House official.
I need to digest this; lots of implications here. First of all, Schneiderman is a co-chair, along with DoJ’s Lanny Breuer, who worked for the law firm that defended MERS. Robert Khuzami, the director of enforcement at the SEC, who has embarrassed themselves with their no-fault settlements, is also a co-chair. This could be good or could amount to nothing, with Schneiderman outvoted.
My big question is: I thought the Administration already did a comprehensive investigation of the mortgage crisis? That’s what they keep saying.