President Obama’s Final State of the Union Address Likely Heavy on Style, Not Substance

Michi Iljazi

January 11, 2016

President Obama delivers his final State of the Union Address (SOTU) to the nation on January 12th.  The annual tradition of addressing a joint-session of Congress along with millions of Americans is often used to set the stage for the coming year and the battles with the legislative branch that the President assumes will be on the agenda. However, this year will be different for a several reasons and it is important for taxpayers and those watching the speech to understand why this speech (more so than others) will be weighted more on style and less on substance.


The $1.1 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2016 omnibus spending bill, which included more than $14 billion in defense earmarks and an extension of a package of tax cuts, was signed by the President last month.  Passage of the bill has given Congress room to breathe with regards to certain funding deadlines. Instead of having to pass multiple short-term spending bills throughout the year, 2016 is going to center around limited legislative battles. Completing the FY 2016 spending bill paved the way for a legislative agenda that will have Congress in session for only 111 days of the year and out of session for seven weeks during the summer.

2016 Presidential Election

Election years seem to be a never-ending cycle, but with a Presidential election, the activity always begins earlier and the 2016 campaign has been in full swing for months now. The fact that there will be a Presidential election this November is a major reason why Tuesday night’s speech from President Obama will be largely about setting a tone for the campaign, instead of setting forth an ambitious agenda announcing plans for bold reform on some of the major unresolved issues facing the country.

President Obama’s Final Year

Finally, coupled with a shorter agenda and DC-work period for Congress is the obvious reality that these are President Obama’s final months in office. His last SOTU speech will be a major departure from the past when he rolled off a laundry list of proposals that he wanted to see legislative action taken on. The White House has already admitted that the speech will be more about what has happened over the last seven years, and looking ahead to the campaign. President Obama will use his last SOTU speech as a way to influence the campaign and because it’s obvious he would like to play a critical role in ensuring he is succeeded by someone who will preserve the vision he brought into the White House and the policies that he has successfully put in place.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has had many disagreements with the Obama administration over the last seven years, but there are still areas where work can get done, here are a few of them:

Tax Reform

An area of policy that the President should continue to talk about and use his Tuesday night speech to do so is tax reform. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was the last time the country saw a major overhaul of the tax code. Reforming the individual and corporate tax structure is still achievable and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) seems ready to work with the White House and his colleagues. President Obama has frequently made the case for corporate tax reform, including his call to reduce the rate (which is the highest the world) in his 2012 SOTU speech.

Spending Cuts

With a $19 trillion national debt that is fast approaching $20 trillion, reductions in government spending should also be a focus of President Obama’s final SOTU speech. In 2008, then-Senator Obama said he would use a scalpel to cut the budget, and for years we’ve heard this White House press Congress to be more responsible with budget cutting. Just over the last few months, we’ve seen multiple reports from Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) highlighting the massive waste in government spending. There is no reason why Tuesday night’s address shouldn’t include a push for responsible reductions in spending that get the country on a path toward responsible spending cuts and fiscal restraint.

Regulatory Reform

Last, there should be talk of regulatory reform as it is critical to ensuring that agencies are working responsibly for taxpayers, and not against them. Over the course of the Obama era it has been apparent that agencies have been expanding their power and in some cases abusing it. The President should use his final SOTU address to highlight the need for reform at certain agencies that are in dire need of a change. The FDA has been overreaching on how Americans choose to live their lives when it comes to things like what food they eat; the EPA is regulating everything it can see; and in 2015 the FCC had a “banner” year of harmful directives with new rules on net neutrality and pushing to expand failed government broadband initiatives all across the country. These are agencies that should be reformed and this discussion should be a part of whatever the President says Tuesday night.

While it is refreshing to know that there won’t be talk of new and harmful broad policy initiatives that will harm taxpayers, it is also disappointing to know that there won’t be a push for action on important issues that are still languishing in Congress.

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