State of the Union: A Call to (Limited) Action

By Tom Shoop

January 28, 2014

10:30 p.m. When it comes to exercising the levers of government, this was a speech that was long on promises of action, with President Obama pledging multiple times to exercise his executive authority to spur federal measures he deems essential. At the same time, as he has done before, Obama was careful to position himself as a battler against government inefficiency. (The speech included one reference to "red tape" and separate pledges to attack "bureaucracy" and avoid "bureaucratic" solutions.) As has become customary, Obama gave several nods to military service members and diplomats serving overseas. And he included a few specific references to federal management and workforce issues, with pledges to raise wages for lower-paid federal contractors and to continue efforts to cut the backlog of veterans benefits claims.

10:14 p.m. A standing ovation for cutting the backlog of veterans benefits applications (and vets in general, of course): "As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life.  We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care -- including the mental health care -- that they need.  We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home.  And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families."

10:12 p.m. More praise for the people working for America's government overseas: "We will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster -- as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, 'We will never forget your kindness' and 'God bless America!' "

10:04 p.m. "As we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions." And in pay and benefits for them, too?

10:01 p.m. Here are the annual words of praise for State Department civilians and military service members serving overseas: "And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States armed forces. Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.  When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.  More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan.  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over."

9:58 p.m. This is about as close as anybody will come to a defense of government these days: "It’s the spirit of citizenship -- the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well."

9:49 p.m. Here comes the pledge to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors: "In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour -- because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty." It's followed quickly by a call for Congress to raise the minimum wage for all workers, which comes with a rather curious defense: "It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. "

9:37 p.m. Joe Biden, who's been amusing himself interacting with audience members during the speech, gets an assignment: "I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now."

9:33 p.m. Another exec order promise: "I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."

9:31 p.m. Uncle Sam made Google possible! Obama: "Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.  And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.

9:28 p.m. As he frequently has done in these addresses, Obama positions himself as slasher of red tape: "We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.  But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."

9:22 p.m. Here comes the pledge to issue more executive orders: "So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do."

9:19 p.m. Forgotten about the shutdown? The president hasn't: "For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government.  It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding.  But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy -- when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States -- then we are not doing right by the American people."

9:16 p.m. The speech begins, and it doesn't take long for a shout-out to military service members: "In tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after twelve long years, is finally coming to an end."

9:03 p.m. The Cabinet arrives. It never gets old watching lawmakers, many of whom who have staked out positions hours earlier, jockey for position to press the flesh with the bigwigs -- and ultimately the president.

8:36 p.m. My colleagues at The Wire report the important news that Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson has arrived at the Capitol to hear the speech. He's a guest of Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La.

8:16 p.m. Here's the answer to the annual question of which Cabinet secretary won't be attending the speech, just in case the worst happens: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. He joins a long line of "designated survivors."

4:30 p.m. I'll be blogging President Obama's State of the Union address tonight, focusing on the elements of the speech that will impact government operations and employees. We already know that the president will talk about raising the minimum wage for contractor employees. Tune in to see what other policies he promotes and new initiatives he highlights -- and whether he has anything to say about the people who work in government -- and join in the conversation in the comments below. 


By Tom Shoop

January 28, 2014

http://www.govexec.com/federal-news/fedblog/2014/01/state-union-liveblog/77717/