MANY AMERICANS VIEW the State of the Union address as a lot of rhetoric and not much substance. But for lobbyists and policymakers, what the president does (or doesn’t) say can make or break an issue.
As POLITICO notes, if Obama even briefly mentions an issue or a piece of legislation, it can make the difference between the issue gaining traction in Congress or wasting away. Further, if the President talks about something for which a lobbyist is advocating, it can generate massive credibility for both the lobbyist and his firm, even if they had no part in getting it mentioned in the speech.
Following this year’s speech, for example, LGBT groups were disappointed that Obama made no mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, Obama barely touched on LGBT issues at all, making only a brief reference to marriage equality. As the Huffington Post notes, this may be indicative of the administration’s view that it has enough political capital with the LGBT community that it can afford to ruffle some feathers. The case nonetheless demonstrates both the impact of the SOTU as well as the delicate political maneuvering involved.
Likewise, the guests invited by members of Congress (each lawmaker is allowed one) can have legislative implications for the coming year. Predictably, as PBS notes, more than a dozen Republican members brought business owners and individuals who were negatively impacted by the Affordable Care Act. By the same token, Democrats brought guests who benefitted from the ACA. Democrats (especially the Illinois delegation) also brought at least five immigration advocates. Some lawmakers took a decidedly less conventional approach, though. POLITICO reports that Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) brought Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty.” This blogger wonders if Rep. McAllister will now get to appear on the show.
As with most things in Washington, the State of the Union comes with a side of rhetoric and political bluster. Although every word of the State of the Union need not have far-reaching policy implications, it’s clear that for lobbyists, policymakers, and political forecasters, the Address can have a significant impact on the year to come.