Obama Touches on State Issues in Inaugural Speech
President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address included some key points state policymakers should note.
From reforming schools and the federal tax code to addressing Medicaid and climate change, actions at the federal level could impact states.
The president mentioned reforming both schools and the tax code as priorities. Both items will be a heavy lift with a divided Congress.
The U.S. Department of Education has taken positive steps in education policy by granting waivers for some of the most onerous provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. Until Congress reauthorizes the act and resolves any problems, states and local governments need these waivers to effectively run their school districts.
As for tax reform, states should keep a watchful eye on any plans gaining momentum in Congress to make sure their revenues do not take a hit by the elimination of deductions that benefit states. State policymakers also should be mindful of other important state tax priorities, like allowing states to tax online sales, which Congress must authorize.
The president seemed to draw a line in the sand with Congress by affirming that he will work with them on deficit reduction, but stopping short of cutting Medicaid and other entitlements.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit,” he said. “But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. … The commitments we make to each other—through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security—these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.”
In his address, Obama mentioned gay rights, the first time this has happened in an inaugural address. At the federal level, this could be an indication that the White House intends to be more active with work-arounds to the Defense of Marriage Act. For states, policymakers should look for a more vocal White House when it comes to state initiatives concerning rights for gay Americans.
Obama also addressed the issue of voting rights, highlighting the White House’s concern over the voting delays many people faced in some states in the recent presidential election.
“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote ,” he said.
Whether the president intends to pursue federal legislation to address the issue remains to be seen, but the U.S. Department of Justice can take legal action against states whose voting issues are found to be noncompliant with the Voting Rights Act. That has happened over the past four years.
One of the more passionate mentions by the president came in regard to climate change.
Obama discussed the need for America to lead the way on the development of alternative energy sources, and this is one area where the executive branch can do a lot without Congress. Potentially, states should look for limits on carbon emissions and a further role in the planning of the Keystone Pipeline from the administration.
While it appears from the inaugural address that the second term of the Obama administration may have different priorities from the first, more details will emerge in the State of the Union address in a few weeks.