President Obama delivered his sixth annual State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill on Tuesday night, Jan. 20, 2015. Many of you probably saw the speech broadcast, and witnessed how the event played out: The usual pomp and circumstance, political posturing and unveiling of new initiatives.
With all of the issues immersed in political spin, it could be difficult to filter all of the information that was provided in the hour-long Presidential address. So what are the takeaways in the State of the Union that affect PHCC members? The speech mostly provided a feel for how Congress will work with the President over the next two years. Common ground between the 114th Congress and the Administration is limited, and all eyes will be on the Senate's ability to deliver votes to potentially override any potential veto. Remember: This will be an extremely business-friendly Congress that has already taken steps to repeal the 30-hour work week and opt to redefine "full time" as 40 hours, and House-passed legislation to rein in the regulatory process. If that's any indication, there will be some positive steps taken to help small business in this 114th Congress.
Government in Action
Here is PHCC's take on the 2015 State of the Union address:
The televised State of the Union address is an opportunity for a President to lay out legislative plans to Congress for the coming year and reveal what initiatives, programs, proposals and policies that may be sought. But perhaps more importantly, it is a time for the American people to witness their representatives in action. They can see directly the demographic and political diversity of Congress...women and men of all ages, races, color and backgrounds, coming together to form our nation's legislative body. The State of the Union is a chance for Americans to see and hear first-hand the reactions of individual Members of Congress and watch how political parties react as the President unveils his vision—without the distraction of the media or media interpretation.
Most of what the President addressed was predictable. The President made it clear—while acknowledging that he understands that any form of public policy typically needs to be fine-tuned—that he will veto any effort to repeal or roll back his actions on health care, immigration or climate change. He also spoke very positively about advances to cut the deficit, lower gas prices, and decrease the unemployment rate. President Obama consistently spoke of helping the middle class by investing in child care and universal pre-school. The new buzz word on Capitol Hill..."Middle Class Economics."
In his address, the President referred to an issue that has become a staple in his Administration – "Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?" This of course refers to initiatives that he will seek to eliminate tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while working to help the middle and lower classes.
While both sides of the aisle in Congress will work to ensure the nation doesn't experience another government shutdown, the President did acknowledge a looming fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. (DHS funding will expire at the end of February, and the debate over the funding for DHS is directly related to the GOP's unrest over the President's immigration Executive Order.)
The President sought to set the stage for his agenda in the 114th Congress, including a $320 billion tax package. This was very important to the Administration because he is facing a political shift in the Senate, coming on the heels of a Republican thumping in the recent Congressional elections.
The Administration will seek initiatives to combat cybersecurity, seeking an agreement on fast track trade policy, and a new authorization for use of military force regarding ISIS and ISIL. These received applause from both sides of the aisle.
America's College Promise
Regarding education and as expected, the President outlined "America's College Promise," which would provide two years of community college free for qualifying students and align community college curriculum with employer needs and new investments in technical training programs. This appears to be a movement that could benefit our industry. However, the initiative faces an up-hill battle on the Hill. Here are the details.
The President's proposed "America's College Promise" initiative would designate new federal funding to cover up to 75 percent of tuition costs for two years of community college, with states expected to contribute funds to ensure the full cost of tuition is covered for participating students. The program would be open to "responsible" individuals who are enrolled in qualifying programs on at least a half-time basis, maintain at least at least a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward program completion. Funds could be used to support enrollment in either academic programs that fully transfer to public four-year colleges and universities, or for occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to certificates or degrees in demand with employers. Participating states must also commit to maintaining support for current investments in higher education, improve coordination between secondary and postsecondary systems to reduce the need for remediation, and allocate at least some funding on the basis of performance rather than enrollment.
Fascinating Times Ahead
This 114th Congressional cycle will be fascinating. If you study government and politics and have a passion for public policy, the next two years will offer one of the most interesting political times in our lives. The so-called Congressional dysfunction or gridlock reflects that we live in a very diverse nation. All eyes will be on the legislation passed and the veto process. To find out the specifics of how this will all affect you, be sure to look for future PHCC communications and check our website www.phccweb.org and social media outlets for regular updates.