A weekly outreach to our friends and colleagues in Canada
SPECIAL STATE OF THE UNION ANALYSIS EDITION
Weekly Washington Wrap
- All the focus in Washington this week was on the president’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Leading up to the speech, House Republicans passed a resolution directing the Budget Committee to set non-security discretionary spending levels for the remainder of this fiscal year at 2008 levels. The battle between House Republicans and the president on fiscal restraint was echoed in the State of the Union speech where President Obama committed to freezing federal pay and reorganizing the federal government to eliminate duplicate programs and inefficiency.
- But the buzz this week in Washington seems to be more about what was not in the president's speech. No labor union issues were mentioned, nor were high profile favorites such as gun control and climate change – two topics that Democrats wanted in the speech. Read on to find what was in the president’s State of the Union (SOTU) and why it matters to Canada.
Back to the Beginning
President Obama presented his verdict of – and vision for – America in the SOTU annual address before Congress this week.
The annual presidential speech is steeped in both law and rich history. The US Constitution actually calls for the president "from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.
Back in the late 1700s, President George Washington combined the Inaugural Address with his Annual Message on April 30, 1789. He read the address to a joint session of Congress in the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall in New York City. President Washington delivered his first regular Annual Message to a joint session of Congress in New York City on January 8, 1790.
From that time until 1934, the speech was known as the "Annual Message." In the 1940s it informally became known as the State of the Union and from about 1947 on the moniker stuck.
Over the decades, the tone and content of the big SOTU Address has changed, but generally it has mostly been designed for the president to provide an update to Congress on the country's fiscal health and over time, to rally support for various presidential initiatives.
State of the Speech
And so it was that President Obama found himself in the opulent US House of Representatives chamber to deliver the second SOTU Address of his term. The optics could not have been more different this year with a new GOP speaker of the House, John Boehner, sitting behind him and facing a new Republican majority in the House and a largely diminished Democratic majority in the Senate. In a bid to bipartisanship and in respect to their colleague, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords who is making a remarkable recovery following a gunshot wound to the head, members sat next to colleagues of the opposite political party.
Pundits and pols will continue to disagree on whether the president successfully presented himself as more "centrist" discussing issues like job creation, corporate tax reform, and budget cuts.
He combined this bipartisan unity theme – often wrapping what some dubbed "Reaganesque language" – around calls for additional government spending or "investment" as the president preferred to call it. He did make a point of reaching out to his political base calling for action on traditionally liberal issues including increased education funding, clean energy (green jobs), and protecting social security.
Of particular interest to Canada, the president touched upon free trade and energy issues.
On the trade front, Obama set a goal of "doubling our exports by 2014."
Here's more from the SOTU:
"Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks."
The president also talked at length about a push for "clean energy" calling for 80% of electricity coming from clean energy sources within 25 years. This represents a pared-down version of his environmental and energy agenda (an interesting observation since his savvy "Energy Czar" Carol Browner announced just before the SOTU this week that she would be leaving the administration.)
The Clean Energy Standard will now become the legislative focal point for the president's environmental and energy congressional agenda. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will push for an expanded definition of clean energy – to include nuclear, advanced coal technologies, and biofuels. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), will likely push the same approach as last Congress which is a more narrow definition (wind, solar, etc.).
Considered one of the key reasons for Browner's departure, House Republicans are not likely to approve any energy bill that would impose mandates on industry (cap and trade), and any legislation that could be characterized as imposing a tax is dead on arrival in the lower chamber.
While the president called for tax reform, he used that as an opportunity to call for the elimination of tax deductions that benefit oil companies, a popular Democratic response to any tax debate. Expansion of light rail and deployment of high-speed wireless were also recycled themes from President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan.
Legions of Leaders
Most VIPs in South Carolina only managed to catch the ending of the president's address Tuesday night because they were at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center for the sixth annual Wilkins Leadership Award Dinner sponsored by the Riley Institute at Furman University.
More than 600 South Carolinians gathered for a dinner and awards ceremony that each year recognizes excellence in legislative leadership and is named in honor of our own David Wilkins. A new twist was added as Furman's Riley Institute (named in honor of the former Secretary of Education, South Carolina governor, and Nelson Mullins partner Richard Riley) applauded excellence in civic leadership as well. This year's award recipients are state Senator Wes Hayes (R-York) and Greenville philanthropist Minor Shaw.
A highlight of the evening was the keynote address delivered by our brand new governor Nikki Haley. The governor was in good company as past Wilkins Dinner speakers have included the likes of PBS's Judy Woodruff, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, US Senators Howard Baker and Nancy Kassebaum Baker and the former US Ambassador to Canada himself, David Wilkins.
David Wilkins introduces Governor Nikki Haley
As her former House speaker and transition team head, Wilkins had the privilege of introducing Governor Haley Tuesday night. He reminded the crowd that although they were in University of South Carolina Gamecock country – and being hosted by Furman University – Governor Haley, well, hails from, Wilkins' alma mater, Clemson University – where he just happens to be chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Here is an excerpt from his remarks:
"…when Nikki Haley was elected our next governor last November, folks from Tiger Town to Timmonsville celebrated this historic milestone.
Governor Haley is the first woman and first South Carolinian of Indian-descent to hold our executive office.
And by the way, the last Clemson grad to win the governor's mansion was Strom Thurmond – 64 years ago – way back in 1947.
But having had the privilege of serving as chairman of the governor-elect's transition team, and getting to know and watch Nikki Haley debate and decide on early important decisions regarding the direction of her new government – I'm not thinking about the past.
I am thinking about the future – and filled with optimism that Governor Haley will provide the bold leadership our state needs at a time when we need it most…
Frankly, I can't imagine a better ambassador for South Carolina."
Hail to a Hero
Team Wilkins joins with so many of our Canadian friends in mourning the death of a real hero, Antonio Montenegrino.
Mr. Montenegrino was the beloved dad of Ottawa attorney, conservative-insider and everyone's good friend Manny Montenegrino.
As the Ottawa Citizen reported this week, Antonio Montenegrino moved his family from Italy to Canada to build a better life. On Sunday night, Mr. Montenegrino, who more than 60 years ago pulled a man from a fire in Calabria, Italy was himself a victim of a devastating house fire in Ottawa.
Mr. Montenegrino and his wife Stella raised five sons and brought much love and honor to their adopted homeland.
Our prayers and love go out to Manny and Joanne, their children, and the entire Montenegrino family as they remember a great man.
Rest in peace, Mr. Montenegrino.
If you are interested in the possibility of having Ambassador Wilkins speak at an event, please contact Christy Cox at Christy.Cox@nelsonmullins.com or call 803.255.9470.
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.