President Barack Obama again served notice in his Tuesday night State of the Union speech that he's prepared to use the powers of his office to overcome congressional opposition to his policies. He warned that "wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."
But he also said that he's "eager to work" with Congress. And his references to possible unilateral power plays sounded a bit less confrontational than his recent warnings of looming executive actions.
Maybe that seeming shift in tone indicates a belated awareness by Mr. Obama that his presidential legacy - and our nation's best interests - demand that he yield more ideological ground to find common practical ground with the Republican House.
Then again, judging from the long list of stale liberal tropes the president presented Tuesday night, maybe not. But now that he's more than a year into his second term, he must choose to become either less intransigent or less relevant.
Of course, Mr. Obama is not the first president to use executive orders to counter a perceived congressional refusal to cooperate. However, there are legal limits to presidential prerogatives - though apparently not much limit to President Obama's overestimation of big government's ability to correct economic "inequality."
As a former constitutional law professor, Mr. Obama should be well aware of the checks-and-balances constraints wisely placed on the executive branch by our Founding Fathers. And as our nation's top elected official, he should try using his powers of persuasion on not just the public at large but the Republican House.
Unfortunately, the president's still pitching failed left-wing policies that add to the business community's burdens while intensifying dependency on big government. In Tuesday night's speech, he hailed his edict to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers and called for Congress to follow suit for all workers. He pressed for yet another extension of unemployment benefits, a trend that threatens to turn a program that's supposed to be a stopgap between jobs into a permanent jobless entitlement of sorts.
He even cited the dubious statistic that women earn only 77 percent of what men do for the same jobs, asserting, "It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."
He also reprised his call for more infrastructure jobs (remember those illusory "shovel-ready" ones?) declaring, "I'll act on my own to slash bureaucracy" that's blocking them. That was a curious pledge from a president whose administration has piled unprecedented volumes of regulations on the private sector.
On the international front, the president painted unrealistically rosy scenarios on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the potentially disastrous folly of trusting that an emerging accord with Iran, the world's top state sponsor of terrorism, can stop its long-term pursuit of nuclear weaponry.
As for his boast about cutting the deficit in half, it's true that last year's gap of $680 billion was less than half of the record 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion. It's also true, though, that our national debt has soared by more than $6 trillion on President Obama's watch.
And as The Washington Post's "fact check" on his speech reported: "The United States still has a deficit higher than it was in nominal terms and as a percentage of gross domestic product than it was in 2008 and a debt much greater as a percentage of the overall economy than it was prior to the recession."
Another flight of presidential fancy came when he urged Republicans to offer alternatives to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: "If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people and increase choice - tell America what you'd do differently. Let's see if the numbers add up."
That challenge took considerable gall from a president who repeatedly vowed, "If you like you plan, you can keep your plan" - and who knows that congressional Republicans, including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, have repeatedly offered specific health reform alternatives to the overreaching excesses of Obamacare.
Meanwhile, back on the executive-action front, the Health and Human Services Department has repeatedly changed the Obamacare rules without seeking congressional approval.
In fairness to the president, he did inherit an awful economic mess - and times have gotten better over the last two years. The national unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in October 2009 to 6.7 last month. While much of that drop was due to millions of longtime jobless Americans giving up on finding work and leaving the labor force, the recovery is clearly gaining ground.
And the president made a wise shift recently by signaling his willingness to accept incremental progress on overdue immigration reform. That greatly increases the chances of congressional action on that front this year.
Now he should do more of the same by recognizing that bipartisan solutions are possible on other issues, too.
Yes, America's voters elected Mr. Obama president in 2008 and re-elected him in 2012.
But after seeing him push the Affordable Care Act through two Democratically controlled chambers of Congress in 2010, the voters put Republicans in control of the House later that year - and again gave the GOP a House majority in 2012.
That should have been a signal to the Democratic president, Democratic Senate and Republican House to work with, not against, each other.
That means moving toward common ground - not going it alone.
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