Congress is back in Washington next week. The question facing the members of Congress is whether President Obama's education and infrastructure initiatives are too hot for them to handle.
Since the GOP took control of the House of Representatives in January, 2011, President Obama and congressional Republicans have fought a never ending budget battle. The combat will intensify in the next few days as we get closer to the detonation of the austerity budget bomb on March 1.
Since Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives, they have won most of the budget battles. Sure, President Obama has won a few victories including the demise of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. But for the most part, the combatants have fought on a battleground of the GOP's choice. The argument has been not on whether or not the federal government should do more or less. The debate has been how much less to do.
In his State of the Union address last week, the president took the fight to congressional Republicans. He proposed fixing 70,000 decrepit bridges, increasing access to preschool, and spending money for research and technology to reduce oil use. Bridge reconstruction means more construction jobs, more students equal more teachers, and green energy technology requires more scientists. All jobs, anyway you look at them.
The president didn't use the "s" word in his speech but a stimulus by any other name creates as many jobs. In his book, The New New Deal, Time magazine correspondent Michael Grunwald chronicles the success stories of 2009 stimulus program. Sure there were failures like Solyndra but Grunwald believes the stimulus allowed the United States to invest in clean energy technology that will pay dividends well into the 21st century.
This is a big step for the president. In the past two years, he entered negotiations with the GOP with a weak hand in the hope that Republicans would accept his middle-of-the-road proposals. Of course they didn't and conservatives were able to get the president to compromise his compromises and he got nothing.
Barack Obama has decided to let his freak flag fly. Last year, conservatives warned voters to no avail that the president would be even more liberal in his second term than his first. For once, I'm glad that conservatives were right.
Will the president's initiatives get through Congress? Probably not, but his proposals will change the nature of the debate. That is about as much as you can hope for in Washington these days.