US President Barack Obama says 2014 will be a “year of action” in which he plans to use his executive authority to enact new policies, while seeking greater cooperation from the sharply divided Congress.
“I am eager to work with all of you,” Obama told lawmakers during his State of the Union address on 28 January. “But America does not stand still — and neither will I.”
For those interested in scientific issues, this year’s speech contained few surprises. Obama did not hint at new policy priorities, as he did in 2013 when he highlighted brain-mapping research just weeks before the White House unveiled its Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Instead, he sounded familiar themes, beginning with a plea to Congress to increase funding for scientific research and development “so we can unleash the next great American discovery.”
Declaring that “climate change is a fact,” Obama once again touted his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which supports the development of both renewable and fossil fuel energy sources. Two of the few new proposals in tonight’s speech included Obama’s plans to propose new regulations that would allow medium- and heavy-duty trucks to run on natural gas and other alternative fuels, and a tax credit to encourage the development of infrastructure to support such vehicles.
Obama also made a brief plea for patent reform, urging Congress to limit what he said was costly and needless litigation, following a series of reforms and recommendations released in June by the White House. The House of Representatives approved a patent-reform measure in December, with White House backing, but a similar effort in the Senate has made little progress.
The president also exhorted lawmakers to revise US immigration laws, though he offered few specifics about what that would entail. The Senate approved immigration legislation last year that would, among other things, allow thousands more foreign scientists and engineers to remain in the United States permanently, but the issue stalled in the House.
Finally, a note for US political trivia buffs. One notable face was missing from the US Capitol during Obama’s address: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who was chosen as this year’s “designated survivor”. He sat out the speech in an undisclosed location to ensure government continuity in case of catastrophe. (Moniz, who took office in May, is the second Energy secretary in as many years to earn the honor; his predecessor, Steven Chu, skipped Obama’s 2013 address.)