The TV audience for the State of the Union has been declining over the last three administrations, and this year the White House decided to embrace that fact and change its strategy. Rather than wait until Tuesday night to unveil a laundry list of new proposals, for the past two weeks President Obama has been announcing them one by one as part of what adviser Dan Pfeiffer dubbed the “SOTU Spoilers” tour. Here’s a look at what you can expect to see in Obama’s sixth State of the Union address. Of course, we still recommend that you watch the speech, but this way you won’t be missing much if you want to focus mainly on Joe Biden’s background antics.
WHEN IS THE SPEECH?
9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. All of the major networks will cover the speech, as well as PBS, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, C-SPAN, and Al Jazeera America. The Washington Times has a rundown of who’s anchoring each broadcast, so you can select whatever you consider the “best political team in television.” (Sorry, Wolf Blitzer.)
The White House is also broadcasting an “enhanced” version of the speech, with charts and graphics, at WH.gov/SOTU. As part of its beefed-up social-media strategy, the White House is also promoting its “river of content,” which will feature “boats” that “showcase expanded, standalone views into Administration policy — often with an interactive or personalized component.” Look out for whatever that is if you find the enhanced speech insufficiently nerdy.
WHAT’S IN THE SPEECH?
On Face the Nation Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer said the “core theme” is “middle-class economics.” Obama focuses mainly on economic recovery in this “behind the scenes” look at the State of the Union, which includes a fine video montage of the president feigning interest in things:
These are the policy proposals president Obama has unveiled ahead of the speech:
- Increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans to finance middle-class tax cuts. Obama said he will call on Congress to increase the top capital-gains tax rate for couples with incomes above $500,000 per year, and eliminate the “trust-fund loophole.” His plan also includes a new bank fee on banks with assets over $500 billion. The revenue from these measures would be used to give families with two working spouses a $500 tax credit and increase child care and education credits.
- Providing free community college for everyone “willing to work for it.” Under Obama’s proposal, the first two years of community college tuition would be covered by a mix of federal and state funds. Students would have to attend school at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make “steady progress” toward completing a government-approved program in order to be eligible.
- Reduced insurance premiums on some federally issued mortgages. The president announced Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance premiums will be cut from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent. The White House said the move will reduce mortgage costs for more than 800,000 homeowners and encourage more Americans to buy homes.
- Requiring companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. The plan would apply to companies that employ 15 workers or more.
- Expanding broadband access. Obama called on the FCC to override laws in 19 states that prevent communities from offering citizens high-speed internet plans.
- Increasing cybersecurity protections. The president unveiled legislation that would require companies to notify consumers within a month if their information is exposed in a data breach. Other proposals aim to promote information sharing between the government and corporations to fight cyberthreats and give law enforcement greater authority to go after cybercriminals.
- Promoting private investment in infrastructure projects. The White House said it still wants Congress to increase federal funding for highways, bridges, and transit projects, but since they have yet to act, the president will propose various ways to “put private capital to work in revitalizing U.S. infrastructure.”
- Capping methane gas emissions. The administration announced it plans to impose new regulations on methane emissions by oil and gas companies. Its goal is a 45 percent reduction from 2012 emission levels within the the next decade.
While they’re technically not part of the State of the Union “spoilers,” some of the First Lady’s guests provide clues about other topics that will be covered. Among Michelle Obama’s nearly two dozen guests are Alan Gross, the American contractor released last month after five years in Cuban captivity; Ana Zamora, an immigration advocate and “DREAMer”; and Scott Kelly, who is preparing for a yearlong mission on the International Space Station (and whose twin brother is married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords).
The Obamas aren’t the only ones planning to make a point with their State of the Union invites. Senator Marco Rubio will protest Obama’s Cuba policy by bringing Rosa María Payá, the daughter of a Cuban political dissident who was killed in a car crash in 2012, which many believe was caused by the Castro regime. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has invited Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, who has been carrying a mattress around campus to protest the university’s handling of her alleged rape.
One person who is not expected to attend, aside from the designated survivor, is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. He plans to return to work tomorrow for the first time since breaking several bones and seriously injuring his eye while exercising, but he is still recovering.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE SPEECH?
Representative Joni Ernst of Iowa has been selected for the humiliation ritual known as the Republican rebuttal. While she was only sworn in a few weeks ago, Ernst may actually fare better than previous Republicans. She did manage to win over Iowa voters with an ad about castrating hogs. A separate tea-party response from Representative Curt Clawson will stream on TeaPartyExpress.org after Ernst speaks.
Obama will keep promoting policies introduced in the speech during visits to Idaho and Kansas on Wednesday and in a live YouTube chat on Thursday. The White House staff will also be answering questions via social media on Wednesday as part of the second annual “Big Block of Cheese Day,” which they proudly admit was inspired by The West Wing.