Quick note about tonight’s State of the Union Address: I’m not expecting too much to be said about the budget, deficit or debt.
There are four reasons.
First, as much as a budget person likes me hates to admit it, all three of those topics are highly contentious, wonkish and almost certainly will darken the mood. In other words, they’ll do exactly what most president’s don’t want to do with a SOTU.
Second, the president will want to use the speech to talk about his vision, that is, about the “promised land” voters will find if they follow his lead. He will want to make it clear that budget problems will be solved, or at least diminished, as the country moves in that direction rather than the country will move in the right direction if it solves the budget problem.
Third, there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for the White House to talk about these topics. In fact, as soon as the SOTU and the follow-up events the administration has planned around the country are over, that’s just about all it will be discussing through the end of March. The SOTU is almost the admnistration’s last chance not to focus on these things.
Fourth, since the 2012 election, the president has significantly changed his negotiating strategy when it comes to the budget and has refused to offer much in the initial meetings with the GOP. Making specific proposals in the SOTU about what he is willing to accept to reduce the deficit would violate that strategy.
This is not to say that the president won’t mention the budget, just that I expect he’ll do so in sweeping, grandiose terms rather than with specifics. He’ll likely call for a process that moves comprehensive tax and entitlement changes, for example. Stopping the constant warfare on the budget may also be an applause line.