SMALL BALL: Obama downsizes ambition as agenda stalls

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Other scaled-down aims included the creation of a bipartisan voting commission designed to identify and eliminate barriers Americans may encounter on their way to polling places.

The larger ideas mentioned last year, all of which had been put forth in previous State of the Union speeches, have gone nowhere.

In Tuesday’s speech, for example, Mr. Obama again highlighted the threats from global warming and vowed to limit carbon emissions. But he did not call for a cap-and-trade style bill as he has done in years past, instead vowing to use regulations and other forms of executive authority.

“That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air,” he said.

Immigration reform also has yet to clear the House, despite some bipartisan support. Gun control went nowhere amid stiff opposition from lawmakers and outside special-interest groups. Comprehensive tax reform, which has been a part of each of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union addresses, remains an uphill battle.

“He keeps talking about these things in similar ways. It’s a problem for him. It makes it look like the power of the presidency is pretty weak. It makes it look like his power as a bargainer is pretty week,” Mr. Rottinghaus said.

But those big-picture failures and the more targeted nature of his recent speeches don’t mean Mr. Obama has failed entirely on major proposals.

In 2010, the president’s State of the Union address focused a great deal on health care reform. Less than two months later, the Affordable Care Act cleared Congress after one of the most contentious political fights in recent history.

He also vowed to extend college tax credits and was successful in getting that accomplished.

The president promised to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and American presence in those two countries decreased in subsequent years.

In 2011, he announced that it was time to replace the No Child Left Behind education law with a program “that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.” His administration did replace the law through executive action, establishing a system of waivers that allows states to escape mandates of the federal education act if they propose reforms that meet the White House’s approval.

In 2012, he dedicated a large portion of his speech to energy, vowing that the nation would pursue an “all-of-the-above” strategy that included developing vast U.S. oil and natural gas reserves. The U.S. now is on track to achieve, within a decade, independence from energy produced outside North America.

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