President Obama did not include any groundbreaking legislative ideas in his State of the Union last night.
He continued to push Congress to raise the minimum wage and pass immigration reform while vowing to take more unilateral actions, starting by raising the minimum wage for new federal contractors to $US10.10 an hour.
His address won’t do anything to convince Republicans to pass more of his legislative agenda.
But the president did have two decisive victories last night, and neither had anything to do with his actual speech.
1. Republicans gave in on the debt ceiling. Just before his address last night, Politico reported that House Republican leaders were privately saying that there would be no debt ceiling fight this time around. This is a massive victory for the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who both stuck to a hard line last October during the previous debt ceiling fight and refused to negotiate. This was a matter of principle. President Obama regretted making concessions in the debt ceiling fight in 2011 and want to set a standard that the debt ceiling cannot be used as an extortion device.
If Republicans are truly waving the white flag, then the president has set that standard. He has disarmed the debt ceiling for good.
2. Obamacare repeal is 100%, officially dead. Throughout the past couple of weeks, the Republican Party’s position on Obamacare has slowly shifted from repealing the law to fixing it. They weren’t vocal about this development but party leaders knew that repealing Obamacare in its entirety was no longer a politically viable strategy now that millions have gotten insurance through it. That’s why the alternative health reform plan proposed by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) kept some of Obamacare’s most popular features and retained the same framework of the law.
In both Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) respective State of the Union responses, they made it clear that returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo is no longer an option.
“No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were,” McMorris Rodgers said, “but this law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.”
Lee’s acceptance of Obamacare was even more surprising given that he gave the tea party response and was one of the architects of the government shutdown last October that was intended to stop the law.
“When it comes to healthcare, we know the best way to repeal Obamacare is to deliver better solutions,” Lee said. “We can’t just return to the old system.”
Lee uses the word ‘repeal’ here, but immediately admits that Obamacare is here to stay. For him to make such an admission in the tea party response is a clear indication that the repeal effort is officially dead.
These are two gigantic victories for the president. Two of his biggest fights with Republicans over the past few years have been over raising the country’s borrowing limit and ensuring Obamacare became the new status quo. Last night, he decisively won both of those fights.
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