Last night, President Obama delivered his 2015 State of the Union Address to a special joint session of Congress covering swathes of domestic and foreign policy issues. The important question, given the political risks of significant policy shifts, is whether any of these issues will survive a Republican-controlled Congress. Here is the likelihood of his major proposals making it through a Republican controlled Congress.
Greater executive power in foreign policy
Iran: Several Republicans (and a few Democrats) in Congress have argued in favor of pursuing a new round of sanctions against the Iranian government in order to get them “back to the table” of the P5+1 negotiations. President Obama asked Congress for additional time to pursue negotiation, and vowed to “veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”
Generally Democrats and Republicans have come out in strong coalitions in favor of pursuing sanctions against Iran. With President Obama in opposition to new sanctions, Democrats in both houses will be less likely to override a Presidential veto, unless a major deadline is passed or there are significant developments in Iran that convince members of Congress that the current negotiations will fail.
Cuba: Citing a 50-year “legacy of mistrust” between the two countries, President Obama has asserted that the White House has done “as much as [it] can” in supporting the normalization of relations between the two countries. He called upon Congress to remove the embargo.
With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, it appears very unlikely that the United States will fully remove all restrictions on relations with Cuba. However, significant lobbying from major agricultural interests could alter the equation for Midwestern Republican Members of Congress.
Islamic State: In his State of the Union, President Obama asked Congress to “show the world that we are united” in the mission of promoting democracy and the rule of law by formally authorizing the use of force against IS in Iraq and Syria.
Despite previous opposition to engage in “boots-on-the-ground” operations in Syria by Democratic and Republican members of Congress, it appears more likely now that Congress will provide this authority, though American troops on the ground would likely serve as a last resort. Democrats and Republicans on the respective Senate and House armed services committees have indicated willingness to engage in military action in Syria and Iraq, in particular Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).
Trade: President Obama asked Members of Congress to grant his administration Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would allow the executive branch to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), subject to an up-or-down vote by Congress.
Republicans have largely supported free trade agreements, and it appears likely that the Congress will grant the President TPA to move forward on the TPP and TTIP agreements. Although opposition is forming in the House – both by liberal Democrats and Tea Party-affiliated Republicans –, it is unlikely that they will be able to forge a coalition of 216 members to vote down TPA. The issue will likely hit Congressional committees (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means) in early February.
Social security for the American middle class
Childcare: President Obama pointed to the high cost of raising children, and asked Congress to provide a tax credit of up to $3000 per child per year to support childcare. Noting that “it’s time to stop treating childcare as a side issue or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is,” the President hopes to convince Congress to pass a tax cut to aid in the upbringing of children.
The President did not provide specifics either on the exact cost of the bill, or how precisely he proposed to pay for such a significant bill. This will likely serve as the major source of opposition from Congressional Republicans, and it appears likely that this initiative will not be successful.
Paid Sick Leave: The President noted that the United States represents the last industrialized country to not have mandatory sick leave or maternity leave. Obama asked Congress to nationally mandate paid leave, at least 7 days of sick leave per year.
The issue has proven popular among voters, but it appears less likely that the major committees that would cover this issue in Congress will devote much attention to it.
Free Community College: President Obama explored the importance of advanced education and training in the 21st century American workforce. Using the examples of conservative Tennessee and liberal Chicago to reduce community college costs, the President suggested providing free tuition for community college students (provided they graduate on time with good grades), as well as reducing monthly payments for student debt repayments.
Similarly to the childcare proposal, the lack of specific cost estimates or sources of payment will likely become a significant sore spot for Republicans and conservative Democrats. It is unlikely that this issue will become national policy.