President Obama is scheduled to give his third annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, laying out his agenda for the federal government in 2012. It's safe to assume, though, that he'll find little or no support for his initiatives from Republicans in Congress. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled Sunday that another year of partisan sniping and dysfunction had already started when he said it would be "pathetic" if Obama stuck with the policies he'd advocated in the past. Given the slim chances of the two parties agreeing on any significant legislation before the November election, Obama should devote his energies to achieving the next best thing: enacting a few meaningful but less polarizing measures that could help the anemic economy.
The president gave a brief preview of his speech in an online video released Saturday, and it struck the same themes of "fairness" and "rebuilding" he has been talking about for the last six months. When Obama calls for a country where "everybody does their fair share, everybody plays by the same set of rules," he usually means shifting more of the tax burden onto high-income Americans. Republicans call that class warfare, so it's hard to imagine any such proposal passing this year, even in the context of a reform that simplified the tax code, broadened the base and reduced rates. As much as we'd like to see that kind of overhaul, at this point we'd settle for Congress quickly agreeing to extend the temporary reduction in payroll tax rates through the rest of the year — a proposal that seems to be supported by most lawmakers from both parties but has been blocked by Republicans aligned with the tea party.