The Spectacle Blog

SOTU Preview: Human Props, Budget Fights, and Wedge Issues

By on 2.12.13 | 3:56PM

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama will likely use the bully pulpit to harangue recalcitrant congressional Republicans into supporting his agenda on spending, immigration, and guns.

Expect the president’s use of human props to be as liberal as his policies. Obama clearly believes he has the GOP on the ropes as he seeks to advance “wedge issues” that will separate his opponents from swing voters. But as past proponents of gun control and amnesty have learned, wedges sometimes cut both ways.

Obama faces particularly unfamiliar territory on the upcoming budget fights. House Republicans have backed off of using the debt ceiling as their primary instrument for gaining concessions on spending. Instead of allowing the president to persuade jittery credit markets that fiscal responsibility is irresponsible, Republicans have pivoted to the sequester and the continuing resolution.

Many Republicans would prefer that defense cuts mandated by sequestration did not occur. But overall, the Democrats have more to lose if the status quo is not changed. And this time Republicans have an advantage written into current law—spending cuts will happen no matter what Obama does unless Congress specifically changes current policy—much like the Democrats did when the Bush tax cuts were about to expire at the end of 2012.

Do the Republicans finally have the leverage they have been looking for? Will Obama’s second-term agenda doom swing state Democrats in 2014? Either way, expect a very combative president who will use his big speech as a weapon with which to bludgeon his political opposition.

It’s the Chicago way.

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