State of the Union Address: A blueprint for change or just big date night?

As President Obama laid out his second-term agenda to Congress on Tuesday, Senate Democrats and Republicans seemed to put aside partisan sniping…or else they were getting ready for Valentines Day.

First-time Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who repeatedly angered Republicans when she was working for the Obama administration, sat between Republican Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Democrat Charles Schumer of New York sat between Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. (The three are part of a bipartisan Senate group crafting legislation to overhaul the U.S. immigration laws.)

Odd groupings perhaps, but senators began to mingle their seating charts after former Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded in a shooting in 2011. They continued it in 2012 despite a bitter election campaign.

The warm optics might lead one to forget that Congress and the president are gridlocked over several major issues, including sequestration, the debt ceiling and how best to jump-start the economy.

The State of the Union Address focused on the economy and the role that government can play. The president talked about deficit reduction and the sequester – a topic with which we at CRD Associates are all too familiar. The President even gave a shout out to nondefense discretionary programs, pointing out that cutting those programs to save defense is a bad idea, and that we need a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

He also highlighted science and innovation, climate change, housing and fair treatment of women. By focusing on investments that need to be made rather than cuts to federal programs, the President was more forceful than he was in his first term, getting out in front of issues and making arguments in favor of government programs.

We also heard a more aggressive president as he pitched immigration reform – potentially one of the few national issues that might actually be addressed this year. He was also forceful on gun control – inciting the most emotional and lively moments of the night. But by far the most newsworthy announcement of the night was that 34,000 troops will come home from Afghanistan over the next year.

All in all, despite Politico’s headline that the President was “doubling down” on his aggressive agenda, there were no real surprises in this year’s State of the Union Address. The President said, “It’s not a bigger government, but a smarter government.” These may be our new words that we live by in DC.

We’ve already seen a new approach to advocacy and the entire federal budget process over the past two years – the fact is, advocacy efforts in DC are always evolving and organizations’ advocacy agendas must be nimble to deal with these constant threats and challenges they are faced with every day. The President said it himself as he ended his speech: “it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”

Despite the rounds of applause, standing ovations and bipartisan dates observed in the well of the House chamber, it does not seem likely that we will see quick action on any of the major challenges ahead. But CRD Associates will continue to push for enactment of proposals that represent what government does best. The cycle of high drama, brinksmanship and gridlock must not become the status quo. We have too much to do.

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