WASHINGTON – Not much is expected in a president’s final year, especially in a time of partisan gridlock.
But President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday said that he and the Republican Congress “just might surprise the cynics again” in 2016 just as they did in 2015 — one of the most productive years of his tenure.
The five policy proposals most likely to get done, followed by five that never will:
New climate change regulations: Obama pledged to work toward “solving urgent challenges like climate change.” He’s not going to get any help from Congress. The outlook depends most on Obama’s executive actions, especially his regulations targeting carbon emissions from power plants. If they pass muster in court, Obama will depart with a substantial environmental legacy.
Curing cancer: Obama challenged lawmakers to “make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” He’ll have Congress’ support. The House passed bill last summer to spur the development of new drugs and revitalize research at the National Institutes of Health, and Congress gave the NIH a $2 billion boost in funding.
Fighting heroin abuse: Obama mentioned “helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse,” and lawmakers of both parties are concerned about the problem. A pending package would expand educational and prevention efforts.
Overhauling criminal sentencing: Obama called “criminal justice reform” a bipartisan priority and lawmakers of both parties have coalesced around legislation that would provide more leniency for nonviolent drug offenders.
Raising fees to use federal land: Businesses that extract oil and coal on federal land can expect fees to go up.
FIVE NO WAYS
Authorizing force against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant: The prospects of Congress approving the use of force against the group, as Obama requested in his State of the Union, are nil.
Lifting the Cuba embargo: Congressional Republicans said Obama overstepped when he restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, so they aren’t going to take up his call, in the State of the Union, to lift the trade embargo that Congress codified in 1996.
Overhauling campaign finance rules: Congress is unlikely to advance campaign finance legislation to make it more difficult for the wealthy and corporations to spend money on politics. That’s because Republicans like the system the way it is. They view the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision allowing the wealthy to set up loosely regulated political action committees as a boon to them, while Democrats say they want to get rid of the super PACs.
Closing Guantanamo: Obama, in his 2008 campaign, said he wanted to close the terrorist prison camp at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It’s proven an impossible promise to keep. That will remain so in 2016
Education funding: Obama restated some goals from past State of the Unions when he proposed universal pre-kindergarten and free community college for all. The result will be the same: No dice. Republicans favor giving state and local education authorities flexibility over how to spend federal money for youngsters and say the same goes for community college: Let the states decide.