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from The Great Debate:

Obama must surprise in State of the Union

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President Barack Obama stirred with an unexpectedly powerful inaugural address – a second effort that far surpassed his first. He summoned great themes of American history to argue cogently for his second-term agenda. Now he has a chance to deliver a State of the Union address that improves on those of his first term, too.

The key to success? Presidents still have the power of surprise. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “I am like a cat. I make a quick stroke, and then I relax.” As in his inaugural, Obama should surprise us – this time with new policies and sharp specificity. On the budget, democracy reform and immigration, the president stands well positioned.

Forget the Super Bowl, or even the Oscars. For us policy wonks and ex-speechwriters, this is the biggest event – the time to crack open a beer, microwave the Buffalo chicken wings and settle down in front of the TV for a siege of viewing.

For the State of the Union remains among America’s few civic rituals. It is the one time every year that citizens can hear our leader talk, at length and directly, about where he would take the country. Presidents are ubiquitous nowadays. The idea of an Oval Office address, with everyone hanging breathlessly on the first “My fellow Americans,” is a relic of the Walter Cronkite era.  But television channels across the dial still all tune in to the State of the Union, a rare remaining “roadblock.” And the public still watches. The 2012 speech, largely devoid of controversy, drew 38 million viewers.

from The Great Debate:

Immigration plan does only half the job

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Heeding the Obama administration’s call for immigration reform, a bipartisan group of eight senators Monday released a proposal they plan to introduce as legislation. They wisely included legalization for current undocumented immigrants, but their plan will likely come up short on a guest-worker program for legal migrant workers.

While legalization is a good step, lack of a comprehensive guest-worker program only perpetuates the problem many immigration critics cite as their biggest concern: unauthorized immigration. Yet guest-worker measures have worked in this country before, so it is pure politics, rather than substance, that prevents officials from crafting one now.

from The Great Debate:

Fighting the filibuster

President Barack Obama recently said Congress should “seize the moment” and summon a majority to push immigration reform. There is only one problem – Congress already did that.

Majorities in the House and Senate backed the DREAM Act, a bill creating a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, during Obama’s first term. The bill died, however, when a minority of Republicans filibustered it. So even if a new immigration majority materializes next year, Republicans can just filibuster again. Unless Erika Andiola gets her way.

from Tales from the Trail:

Hispanic activists protest Romney on Dream Act ahead of debate

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Campaigning in Iowa late last year, Mitt Romney said he would veto a proposal granting U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

While turning his back on the so-called Dream Act won him support from grassroots conservatives in the Midwest, it brought out Hispanic activists in protest against him ahead of the debate on Wednesday.

from Tales from the Trail:

A Senate Christmas tale

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(UPDATES with new Reid comments).

Christmas bells are ringing. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't seem to be listening. Much to the chagrin of staffers and more than a few senators, Reid is threatening to keep the Senate in session until Christmas Eve and beyond to finish all the legislative work that Congress failed to complete before the November elections.USA/

That amounts to just about a whole year's worth of lawmaking. Congress never got around to passing any of the 12 spending bills that fund the government. So the Senate is expected to take up a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill after senators voted to extend Bush-era tax cuts by two years and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for a year.

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