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State of the Union: Where Obama will drop the ball?

By   /   January 28, 2014  /   No Comments

AP photo

PREPPING; President Barack Obama works at his desk Monday in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, ahead of Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech.

 

By Watchdog.org staff

Call it what you want — a push of the reset button, a pivot or an opportunity to present the American people with a plan of action.

The State of the Union address Tuesday night by President Barack Obama promises to be many things to many people, but the speech — and the policies he presents therein — will come up short in the eyes of millions.

Sure, the president likely will discuss jobs, the so-called living wage, income inequality and the environment, but the commander-in-chief will also duck a few important issues, too.

Even worse, he might get a few of the issues wrong, experts tell Watchdog.org.

Here are five things those experts think Americans need to know about the president’s address:

The minimum wage

Michael Tanner, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, is crossing his fingers that the president doesn’t call for a hike in the minimum wage.

Still, he isn’t holding his breath.

Tanner fully expects Obama to push for increasing the federal minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. But the Cato fellow, like many others, is certain the proposal will not have the desired results.

“The president’s going to claim it will have a significant impact on raising people out of poverty, and it won’t,” Tanner said.

Only a small number of citizens making minimum wage are heads of households living in poverty, according to recent population surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The majority are college students and second earners, Tanner said.

Keith Hall, a Mercatus Center senior research fellow, suggests the added financial burden on employers will lead to fewer jobs, especially those for low-skilled workers.

Business owners also are projected to take another hit with Obamacare, Tanner said.

The minimum wage “is not happening in a vacuum,” Tanner said.

“Now you’re getting up to where you’re having a very substantial increase in total employee compensation. That’s bound to have an impact,” Tanner said.

NSA spying on the American people

Public anxiety over the erosion of personal electronic privacy turned red hot in the summer of 2013 when Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor-turned-leaker and whistle-blower, showed that the agency was collecting the phone and Internet data of millions of Americans as part of its counterterrorism activities. The phone records collection program — while defended by the White House, establishment defense hawks, and a federal judge — has been ruled unconstitutional by a separate federal judge and an independent federal watchdog agency.

Michael Maharrey, spokesman for the OffNow.org coalition, told Watchdog.org that even if Obama suggests changes to the NSA during his State of the Union speech that would protect American’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights, the changes still would have to go through Congress. Obama’s Jan. 17 address about the agency was met mostly with skepticism from the public.

“I have absolutely no hope at all for any federal solutions at this point,” said Maharrey.

OffNow.org is a state-level organization challenging the federal government’s warrantless electronic surveillance activities.

The Digital 4th Coalition, a D.C.-based privacy reform organization, urged Obama to endorse the reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Passed into law during before digital cloud storage became widespread, ECPA in its current form gives law enforcement a legal loophole to access emails and text messages 180-days old or older without a warrant. Pending bipartisan legislation in both the House and the Senate aims to modernize the law and require government agents to obtain a warrant from a judge prior to accessing a suspect’s electronic communications.

Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology and a member of the Digital 4th coalition, emphasized in a media statement provided to Watchdog.org the need for Obama to endorse ECPA reform, especially since the State of the Union speech is the same day this year as Data Privacy Day.

“One simple way for the President to assure Americans that he genuinely cares about privacy is by supporting the ECPA reform bills, thereby protecting the email and other online communications of Americans from unjustified government intrusion,” Dempsey in the statement.

Education

The president has been effective at speaking to parents and children about the importance of education, and Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies for American Enterprise Institute, expects him to continue this in his speech.

“He’s always been terrific at that, at emphasizing the importance of education to kids and challenging students and parents to step up and be responsible, so I hope he does so,” Hess said.

But it’s also time for some backtracking, he said.

“I would like to see this president say that he is going to encourage his Department of Education to take a hard look at how far they’ve stretched what the law permits them to do, that they’re going to be more humble about how far they’re trying to guide state policy.”

As for higher education, the president should take a clear look at his priorities.

“I’d like him to make clear that he recognizes that all kinds of higher education programs — nonprofit, for-profit, state-run — have a role to play, and that he wants to make sure the department is creating a playing field that’s focused on quality rather than tax status as it rolls out,” Hess said.

Energy

Steve Van Dyke, a spokesman for the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council,said he hopes the president announces a shift toward legislating energy-industry regulation instead of implementing them through executive action.

“President Obama’s ‘going it alone’ approach to government flies in the face of the basic principles that this country was founded upon,” he said. “Our elected congressmen and senators should also have a say in forming energy policy. Coal-based electricity is an important economic driver and should be preserved through sound legislation and regulation.”

North Dakota’s oil industry said they’d like the states to take the lead in regulation.

“We would like to see discussion of a state-first approach to energy regulation, allowing the states that know their geology, their resources and their regulatory processes to empower themselves and manage their energy production and policies,” North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said.

After a recent visit by Environmental Protection Agency officials to an event hosted by North Dakota’s Public Service Commission, Commissioner Randy Christmann warned that lowered emissions standards for power plants would be impossible for coal-fired power plants to comply with.

IRS scandal

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, says he hopes President Obama would bring up the charges that the Internal Revenue Service singled out conservative groups for unfair scrutiny in their attempts to receive non-profit status.

But he’s not holding his breath.

“I think that’s a bit of pipe dream,” Sekulow told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview Monday night.

The ACLJ has filed a lawsuit against the IRS and Obama administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and former IRS official Lois Lerner, who retired after the scandal broke and refused to answer questions on Capitol Hill, citing the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Some 41 conservative groups, including the Albuquerque Tea Party, are represented by Sekulow’s group. The Albuquerque Tea Party says it’s been waiting more than three years for a determination from the IRS on its request for tax-exempt status.

Sekulow said he would like to see “the president coming out and actually saying, ‘this is important to get to the bottom of.’ But I just can’t imagine him doing it at this point because his administration has played it down They just want to characterize this as partisan politics, that this is no big deal.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that FBI officials do not plan on filing criminal charges against the IRS.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Tea Party, a conservative, a moderate, an independent, or a liberal, the idea that if you allow anyone to misuse the IRS it’s very dangerous precedent to set,” Sekulow said.

Watchdog.org’s Adam Tobias, Rob Port, Mary C. Tillotson, Dustin Hurst, Josh Peterson and Rob Nikolewski contributed to this report.

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