President Obama’s inaugural address, delivered on Jan. 21, shed a new light on his second-term legislative priorities by sketching out an activist, progressive agenda only barely related to his centrist address four years ago.
In 21 days Obama gives his State of the Union address. That is when members of the House of Representatives and Senate will find out what issues the president puts at the top of his legislative watch list.
Obama called a bitterly partisan nation to "collective action" in his inaugural address, knowing his second-term agenda will be too ambitious for many and too meek for others, writes National Journal's Ron Fournier.
This year’s was a more detailed inaugural address than most, singling out the issues of immigration reform, climate change, gay rights, and voting rights.
Climate change and sustainable energy:
Obama tried to push a sweeping cap-and-trade climate bill through Congress in his first term, but it died in the Senate in 2010. Since then, cap-and-trade has become politically toxic and is considered dead on arrival in Congress. The only way Obama could take action would be by using his executive authority to roll out controversial environmental regulations that would cut carbon pollution from existing coal plants. But that would generate massive push-back from industry and Environmental Protection Agency critics on Capitol Hill.
There is some bipartisan support, especially in the Senate, for immigration legislation. However, lawmakers disagree on whether there should be a path to citizenship or merely legal status for illegal immigrants, and whether it should be presented as a comprehensive bill or several smaller pieces of legislation.
In his speech, Obama voiced support for one specific policy, arguing that immigration reform would be incomplete "until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country." Easing the path to citizenship for high-skilled workers enjoys broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate, but will get caught up in the debate about the size of legislation.
Equal pay for women:
In 2009, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, and with so much else on the agenda now, it is difficult to imagine the president expending much more energy on this issue in the next four years, let alone Congress doing so. Republicans last year blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have beefed up protections for women in the workplace. The law has long been considered problematic in the business community because it would open employers up to lawsuits for situations that may not be well defined, such as the definition of "fair pay."
Obama said that the country's "journey" would not be complete "until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." It is also a pledge he made during his acceptance speech on election night, telling the voters who waited in long lines that "we have to fix that." But the president is largely powerless to invoke change on this issue because the nitty-gritty of the voting process is the jurisdiction of state and local governments.