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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Editorials

How to unlock the State of the Union

Published:

It is a safe bet that in his State of the Union address tonight President Barack Obama will hit his familiar themes of more opportunity for the poor and more taxes for the wealthy.

He’ll likely talk about reducing income inequality, extending jobless benefits and raising the minimum wage, and he’ll almost surely lecture citizens about the importance of staying the course with his complicated and unpopular Affordable Care Act.

The result of all this, as he well knows, will be further Washington gridlock, the reason he has hinted that he may look to enact some policy changes through administrative fiat as he continues his second term.

But if the president genuinely wanted to change Washington dynamics and the morale of the nation, he would try to find common ground with opponents, instead of denigrating them.

Imagine how Americans would react should the president tonight frankly acknowledge the Affordable Care Act is not — to put it kindly — working as planned. Imagine him inviting Republicans to collaborate on an overhaul.

The president could still stress the importance of health care access but seek a less sweeping and cumbersome solution, one that might include at least some Republican proposals, such as allowing Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines and permitting small businesses to pool together to obtain insurance purchasing power.

Of course, it’s a virtual certainty he won’t do that, but such bold honesty might revive his standing with Americans and transform Obamacare into something other than political poison.

Or consider how the president could bolster confidence in his energy policies were he to announce his support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will deliver Canadian oil to ports on the Gulf of Mexico and create thousands of jobs. Its construction has become a major cause for congressional Republicans, but it also is supported by many Democrats.

The president has delayed the decision for more than a year because the pipeline is vehemently opposed by some environmental groups.

But the pipeline’s route has been changed to address concerns about Nebraska’s grasslands and aquifer. It will not notably affect carbon emissions since the oil simply would be used elsewhere if the pipeline isn’t built. And it is a far safer means of transporting oil than rail. The Keystone pipeline is more symbol than threat.

Its approval would demonstrate the president is going to be discerning in his justified pursuit of clean energy. Obama, to be sure, can rightly chide Republicans for denying even the possibility of climate change, despite mounting evidence, and ignoring the benefits, environmental and economic, of developing diverse energy sources. Nevertheless, the nation cannot abruptly end its oil dependence without roiling the economy. Approving the pipeline would signal the president understands the importance of attending both environmental and economic consequences.

The president also could quickly win bipartisan support for his goal to increase funding for roads, bridges, transit and other infrastructure by embracing an existing plan that offers a cost-efficient “stimulus.”

Maryland Democrat Rep. John Delaney has proposed such a sensible way to fund road construction and other infrastructure projects that its co-sponsors include Florida tea party favorite Rep. Ted Yoho and Massachusetts liberal Rep. Joe Kennedy.

The Partnership to Build America Act would be funded by the sale of $50 billion worth of bonds, which would generate about $750 billion for infrastructure projects.

The $50 billion, as The Washington Post reports, would come from bonds bought by companies with overseas profits that would then receive a tax break if they brought the cash earned abroad back to the United States.

So Delaney’s plan offers a way to bring companies’ foreign earnings to the United States, address its massive backlog of infrastructure needs and create millions of jobs.

If the president in the State of the Union would concentrate on potential areas of bipartisan agreement, he might find considerable progress is possible on these and other key issues, including immigration and tax reform.

We hope he takes this approach for the good of the country — and his legacy.

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