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POLITICS

Obama lays groundwork to bypass Congress in second term

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Photo - FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Florida Department of Transportation Operations Engineer, Cleo Marsh, inspects the damage done to route A-1-A by the ocean, making parts of it impassable to vehicles on November 27, 2012 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The beach was eroded away last month when Hurricane Sandy passed by to the east and now City officials are saying that the damage may preview what rising sea levels can mean for coastal communities throughout South Florida. Climate scientists predict sea levels in South Florida will rise by 1 foot by 2070, 2 feet by 2115, and 3 feet by 2150.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Florida Department of Transportation Operations Engineer, Cleo Marsh, inspects the damage done to route A-1-A by the ocean, making parts of it impassable to vehicles on November 27, 2012 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The beach was eroded away last month when Hurricane Sandy passed by to the east and now City officials are saying that the damage may preview what rising sea levels can mean for coastal communities throughout South Florida. Climate scientists predict sea levels in South Florida will rise by 1 foot by 2070, 2 feet by 2115, and 3 feet by 2150. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Politics Digest

Going into his second term, President Obama is facing a dilemma. On the one hand, he still wants to pursue an ambitious liberal legislative agenda. On the other hand, he knows that as long as Republicans have control of the House and 45 seats in the Senate, he won’t be able to enact it. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, he responded by laying the groundwork to bypass Congress in his second term.

To be sure, Obama did outline an ambitious legislative agenda. He called for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and a $9 minimum wage. He proposed universal pre-school, more infrastructure spending and backed a bill that would encourage mortgage refinancing. He also described a centralized industrial policy for manufacturing and energy. He couched all of this in bipartisan sounding rhetoric about “reasonable compromise” and putting “the nation’s interests before party.” But on multiple occasions, these proposals were accompanied by vows to take executive action.

For instance, he proposed the creation of 18 more “manufacturing innovation institutes,” but said he was launching three of them through the Departments of Defense and Energy. More significantly, Obama addressed global warming, urging “Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change,” before warning, “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.” This could be interpreted as a sign that he plans to have the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions without Congress.

Putting aside any legal or policy questions, a political problem with Obama’s approach is that even though executive actions are aimed at goading Congress into acting, or perhaps salvaging some sort of second-term agenda if he cannot get what he wants through Congress, it could also backfire. That is, if he’s going around threatening executive action on climate change, Republicans are much less likely to want to strike a grand bargain on immigration or his other legislative priorities.

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