Two recent op-eds about the president’s State of the Union speech (“The president’s fictional record,” Web, Jan. 26 and “When politics defies reality,” Web, Jan. 27) highlight the need for a revised State of the Union format. Structure needs to be imposed on these speeches before they descend further into balloon releases.
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires the president to inform Congress on the state of the union. But it does not specify how or even when. Customarily with such vague requirements, enabling legislation provides the implementation detail. This has never been done with the State of the Union speech. To correct the omission Congress should pass a bill laying out speech requirements as follows.
By a certain date each year the president shall submit to Congress a written report on the state of the union, outlining the executive branch’s actions during the past year pursuant to its assigned responsibilities. The report shall include statements of defense and security, foreign policy, law enforcement, revenue collection and disbursement of public funds, the Treasury’s surplus or deficit, the national debt, and its amortization, judicial appointments, pardons granted and other constitutional responsibilities.
Following these required statements the report can then describe activities not under the executive branch’s enumerated powers, or pertaining to the several states, such as in education, housing, urban development and health and welfare. Finally the report shall give the president’s recommendations for new measures and initiatives to Congress.
Within one week of this written report, the president shall appear before a joint session of Congress, conducted by two chairpersons, one each from the House and the Senate, to answer questions about the report. (Here we can take an example from the Prime Minister’s Question Time in the British House of Commons.)
The new Congress now in session should put a State-of-the-Union implementation bill on its agenda, and make it high-priority. President Obama may veto it, but no matter. The bill would send a message that might discourage excessive rhetoric in his final State of the Union next year.
His veto would carry over to the next president as a spur to action. In the meantime promising to sign such a bill into law would be an unbeatable pledge by any Republican candidate for president.
JOHN S. MASON JR.