By Victoria Craw and Wires
It's the final countdown. As Obama enters the final stage of his presidency, the race is on to secure key reforms to cement his legacy.
At 1pm tomorrow Australian time, the President will deliver his State of the Union address, an annual tradition where the leader speaks direct to Congress and the public, to set the tone for his final year in office.
While 2014 was deemed a “year of action” on immigration, energy and economic reform, this year’s speech is expected to be all about fighting economic inequality and positioning the issue as front and centre ahead of the 2016 election.
As Obama said in December: “My presidency is entering the fourth quarter. Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.”
United States Studies Centre associate professor Brendon O’Connor said Obama is in a unique position because while he’s technically a “lame duck,” his personal popularity means he still has the confidence to push through domestic reforms.
“He’s riding the new-found popularity based on the economy strengthening, bold moves on immigration, Cuba, the environment. He’s standing in a pretty unusual position,” Prof. O’Connor said.
“He’s underachieved and underdelivered. He’ll want to go down with a stronger legacy. He still has his eyes on a couple of major pieces of reform.”
Tomorrow’s speech is expected outline plans for tax increases for the wealthiest one per cent of Americans in exchange for credits for middle class and low-income earners.
Proposed reforms include an increase in the top tax rate, raising the capital gains tax and scrapping a tax break on inheritance as well as imposing a fee on businesses with more than $50 billion in assets.
The $US320 billion worth of savings it’s expected to net over ten years will be used help those less fortunate by cutting education taxes, expanding childcare credits and providing a new $500 payment for families where both parents work. Obama is also expected to outline an increase in paid leave (the US only mandates 10 days a year) and plans to make community college more accessible.
Special invites include 23 people from across the country chosen for their ability to put a human face on the President’s policies. This year, it will include 13-year-old Malik Bryant from Chicago who wrote a letter to the White House saying he just wanted to “be safe”.
Astronaut Scott Kelly who is heading to the International Space Station in March will be there, as will Jason Gibson, an army veteran who lost both legs and has since completed marathons and got his pilot license. The daughter of a Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Paya is also invited.
Macquarie University’s senior lecturer in security studies Dr Adam Lockyer said it’s the first time Obama has faced a Republican-led House and Senate but it might not be as tough as it seems.
“On face value it might seem it’s a more hostile Congress than previously however that’s not the case. It means [Republicans have] an obligation to prove they can govern ... The only way Republicans are going to get things passed into laws is if President doesn’t veto them.”
Already this year the White House has indicated the President would veto a bill on the Keystone Pipeline, while in 2014 Obama signed executive orders on immigration and has worked to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But while the State of the Union might make great political theatre, is there any chance the reforms proposed will actually make it into law?
“No. None whatsoever,” wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox. Dr Lockyer agreed “it’s going to be tough,” saying the speech is more about throwing the gauntlet down to Congress and making them defend the idea of not cutting taxes for the extremely wealthy.
“It’s unlikely to be big sweeping reforms. A lot of this is agenda setting for the next few years and into 2016 as well. It's positioning Democrats as being concerned about inequality and the shrinking middle class,” he said.
“If he pivots the conversation to this they’re fighting on Democratic turf.”
The State of the Union will screen at 1pm Wednesday AEST.
This article was originally published at News.com.au