The State of the Union Pundit Preview

The Atlantic

Don't you hate it when people offer unsolicited advice? Unfortunately for President Obama, it's a daily routine, and everyone has an idea of what they want to hear in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

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The punditocracy actually hasn't been as vocal as usual with the advice, the faux speechwriting, and the talking points. Chalk it up to the inauguration laying out the second-term agenda, or the do-nothing Congress, or that the focus of this policy-oriented speech is so glaringly obvious that most didn't even bother writing what they think is going to happen. (There's a word that starts with E and everyone knows it's going to be the center of this thing — if not the sound-bite soul.)

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But that hasn't stopped the talking heads, the editorial boards, and the advisors and politicians from laying out their wish lists, and it actually serves as a pretty good outline for the kind of speech the White House has promised. Here, from the big economic push to other pressing issues and the general attitude from the podium, is what the pundits are betting on. We'll be sure to keep track in our State of the Union live blog tonight — plus our pundit accountability index in the morning.

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THE ECONOMY AND CONGRESS:

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Mark Halperin

The Morning Joe seat-filler and Time columnist says Obama will push for a "semi-grand bargain":

Honest Democrats in the White House and Capitol Hill will say, "We're drawing these lines in the sand now because we have to, but we are willing to compromise." The question will be whether Republicans are willing to compromise, to make a deal — not a grand bargain, a semi-grand bargain — where you do something on entitlements that involves Democrats taking on some of their own constituencies. I think the President's going to talk about that tonight.

What to Watch for: Less spending, new tax code, slow Medicare spending, fix Social Security. Not entitlements.

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Odds: Low to semi-low. "Semi-grand" is not exactly a bumper sticker, but White House officials have leaked word of a so-called "big deal" with Congress to lower the deficit.

Mona Charen

 

The Washington Examiner's conservative columnist thinks Obama will chastise Congress for its inability to get anything done on the economy:

My guess is that the president will address Americans' economic anxiety by attempting to use it as a cudgel against Republicans. In the past, he has blamed the tsunami, the European debt crisis, automatic teller machines, oil prices and, most popular, George W. Bush for the economy's terrible performance under his leadership. Tonight the president will tweak this theme by arguing that constant partisan bickering in Washington -- lurching from one crisis negotiation over taxes and spending to another -- has undermined confidence in American leadership. He will say that this discord has created terrible uncertainty and that this uncertainty accounts for the economy's doldrums. He will pledge that he wants to end these high-wire acts and pass a big compromise that will apply a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases.

What to Watch for: The sequester, the debt ceiling, maybe even the fiscal cliff as an example of how to get tough on negotiating anything in this Congress.

Odds: That he'll urge Congress to be more productive: high. That he'll agree with Charen on anything else: low. 

Michael Tomasky

 

The Daily Beast columnist wants the President to get specific on revenue:

Job No. 2 is that he should propose some specific revenue measures. The White House has been cagey about this, and I don’t understand why. It plays into Republican hands because they can just say anything they please about his intentions. He should be specific about what he has in mind—whether it’s lowering the corporate rate but eliminating some loopholes or whatever, tonight is the time to spell it out.

What to Watch for: Lowering the corporate tax rate, eliminating loopholes.

Odds: High, but not necessarily in that tough-to-pass policy manner. Look for more zinger-friendly examples such as ending corporate jet subsidies as well as closing oil and gas loopholes — his aides talk about those all the time, and hinted at them again in the run-up to the speech.

Lawrence Summers

 

The Reuters columnist and former Treasuer Secretary wants the President to lead the country away from austerity — spend! spend! spend!

Yes, fiscal restraint is necessary in the medium term to contain financial risks. But unlike in the 1990s, when reduced deficits stimulated investment by bringing down capital costs, fiscal restraint cannot be relied on to provide stimulus now when long-term Treasurys yield less than 2 percent. A broader growth-centered agenda is needed to propel the economy to its “escape velocity.”

What to Watch for: Manufacturing initiatives, education, and energy investments.

OddsPretty good. He did work for the guy, you know, and he probably talks to them sometimes.

OTHER STUFF:

Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

 

The Washington Post's The Fix bloggers crunched some numbers and concluded that the President, if he's going on public opinion, should dodge on immigration and focus more on guns and ending the war in Afghanistan

Seven in 10 people in the survey said they would support a path to citizenship, including 60 percent of Republicans. But when the same question was asked of a separate sample of respondents, this time with Obama’s name attached to it, support dropped to 59 percent overall and just 39 percent among Republicans.

On other hot-button issues like banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons or ending the war in Afghanistan, however, lending Obama’s name to the proposal made each viewed more favorably — and therefore if he were to put his political weight behind them it could actually increase their chances of passing.

What to Watch for: Senate's efforts on immigration reform, doing something about gun violence, bringing the troops home. 

OddsHigh on all counts — the troop levels have already leaked — but expect immigration to be specific, and all of these to give way to the economy.

Bloomberg View

 

The Bloomberg editorial board wants Obama to focus on three things

From our standpoint, Obama -- and the nation -- would be best served by focusing on challenges such as immigration, inequality and climate change. [...] The political payoff may not be as great as it is with, say, gun control. But the economic consequences will be far greater.

What to Watch for: Mentions of a path to citizenship, gay marriage, and Hurricane Sandy.

Odds: Pretty high on all counts, but they may also be short, rousing, applause-friendly lines. Obama spent a lot of political capital on all three during his second inaugural address, and this speech is more about policy. 

David Brooks

The New York Times columnist wants the President to invest in the long-term

But it would be great if Obama gave an imaginative speech that reframed things as present versus future.

If the president were to propose an agenda for the future, he’d double spending on the National Institutes of Health. He’d approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He’d cut corporate tax rates while adding a progressive consumption tax. He’d take money from Social Security and build Harlem Children’s Zone-type projects across the nation. He’d means test Medicare and use the money to revive state universities and pay down debt.

What to Watch for: Obama tying the Keystone pipeline to climate change.

Odds: Pretty high for that part, it seems.

Van Jones

The CNN contributor wants the President to touch on climate change... but he wants the President to abandon the Keystone pipeline: 

Some scientists liken building the pipeline to lighting the fuse on the world's biggest carbon bomb. According to industry experts, without the demand from this pipeline, most of the oil in the Alberta tar sands would stay safely in the ground. Instead, Keystone would funnel the dirtiest oil on Earth from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, which would do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign energy while causing irreparable harm.

In return, we could get higher gas prices, risk of a BP-like spill in the heartland and fewer jobs than there are people employed in thewind industry right now.

What to Watch for: Any mention of Keystone. 

Odds: Not low, but not high, either.

The New York Times 

The Paper of Record's editorial board are calling on the President to deliver on electoral reform:

Long lines are not the inevitable result of big turnouts in elections. They are the result of neglect, often deliberate, of an antiquated patchwork of registration systems that make it far too hard to get on the rolls. They are the result of states that won’t spend enough money for an adequate supply of voting machines, particularly in crowded cities and minority precincts. And they are the result of refusals to expand early voting programs, one of the best and easiest ways to increase participation.

What to Watch for: "Voting Rights Act," "Supreme Court," "right to vote," anything about the whole debacle in Dade County.

Odds: Calling this one a push. Obama mentioned this in his Election Night speech and hasn't brought it up since. But the Supreme Court is set to bring up the Voting Rights Act at the end of February. Obama has used the SOTU address to push the Court before. 

TONE:

Angus King

He's technically a Senator, but on Sunday he put on his pundit hat and told the President to be aggressive:

I think you use the word diplomatic. I mean, my father used to say you can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think that's a tone that he has to take: confident, and strong, and yet at the same time being open to other ideas and compromises and getting the work done.

...

And so I think he was a little was ready to take a more aggressive stance. He won the election pretty solidly and he feels -- who am I advising the president of the United States, that's like giving Ted Williams batting tips. But he -- it seems to me strong, confident. But a strong and confident person also listens and is willing to make compromises when the time comes.

What to Watch for: Direct attacks on Congress.

Odds: Bank on it. 

Gerald Seib

The Wall Street Journal columnist thinks (rightly) that the economy is going to dominate tonight's conversation, but he knows Obama will want to be broad at the same time: 

Tuesday night he makes his fifth such address—the State of the Union that will help define his second term. While the economy is improving and the mood in Washington is changing in significant ways, the story line isn't all that different: A broader Obama agenda is fighting to break out, but the economy still hangs over all else.

...

And yet White House officials are signaling that the core of the speech will focus on ways to spur the economy and job creation. Mr. Obama was criticized by Republicans for not making jobs the centerpiece of his second inaugural address last month; it appears he won't leave himself open to that critique this time.

What to Watch for: Jobs, jobs, jobs — with a little immigration and guns and climate change thrown in for sound bites.

Odds: A lock.

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