One of my criticisms of President Obama has been his seeming willingness to sit back and let Congress take the lead on certain issues, refusing to wade into certain lawmaking issues that might force him to get his hands dirty. One reason the Affordable Care Act debate lingered for a year was that the president left most of the dickering to Congress.*
So the way I figure it, when Obama gives a State of the Union address and recommends policies, but casts himself in the passive role in getting those policies passed, you can be sure the president won't actually be pushing for those policies.
My rule of thumb for determining what those policies are? When the president asks Congress to "send me" a bill—instead of suggesting he'll send Congress a bill to get passed. The passive "send me" happened four times in the State of the Union:
• He won't push to take tax breaks from companies shipping jobs overseas and give them to companies building their businesses here: "So my message is simple. It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away. "
• He won't push for the DREAM Act—which provides a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Heck, he didn't even call it by name. "Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away."
• He won't actually push to promote jobs and energy efficiency in one fell swoop: "Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s a proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs."
• He won't push Congress to stop using its position to enrich its members: "So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow."
Congress has its role, and the president can't necessarily bend the branch to his will. But I think that the president hasn't always applied the leverage that he has. When the president asks Congress to take the lead, it seems likely he's washing his hands of his own good ideas.