One Big Problem for the State of Our Union

One Big Problem for the State of Our Union

REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Trump’s State of the Union address will be analyzed and deconstructed for days. Was he “presidential”? Unifying? Did he go off script? Can this moment possibly serve as a “reset” of his presidency? Will any of what he said matter in a week, or a year?

While we can expect plenty of chatter about the speech, its content, delivery and follow-up tweets, here’s a not-so-bold call about what we won’t be seeing much of in the days ahead: genuine progress on the key issues of the moment.

Take for example the two-year budget deal Congress is trying to forge by February 8, when short-term government funding is once again set to expire. The Washington Post reported Monday night that “lawmakers’ expectations of a spending deal were quickly diminishing under pressure from Republicans and Democrats in both chambers.”

What’s the hold-up? Defense hawks continue to press for higher spending. House conservatives and budget hawks are “rebelling” over the cost and the prospect of higher deficits, demanding reductions elsewhere in the budget. And some Democrats are still insisting there can be no budget deal without a resolution of the immigration debate and protection for people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

In short, Congress is still struggling “to handle its most basic constitutional task” of setting the federal budget, the Post’s Erica Werner and Damian Paletta write. The likely outcome is yet another punt in the form of a short-term bill to keep the government from shutting down again.

But the impasse over a longer-term deal, and the broken budget process it exemplifies, has a much broader effect, preventing money from flowing — even for programs with bipartisan support, like disaster relief or combatting the opioid crisis.

“The paralysis creates instability for the military and domestic agencies that provide critical services and feeds the public’s growing suspicion toward the institutions of government in general,” Werner and Paletta write. “It also makes the task of managing the nation’s long-term finances more difficult.”

The president may say otherwise in his speech Tuesday night, but judging by the latest Washington stalemate and years of broken budgeting, the state of the union is far from great.