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The State of the Union and Why it Matters (Or Not)

President Trump will be delivering his State of the Union address to Congress tonight, and whether you love him or hate him (or are somewhere in between), you really should watch. He will offer insights into his perception of how life in America has been progressing and areas in which he sees room for improvement. The tone he sets and options he proposes are generally a good indicator of what might happen in the upcoming legislative session.

Now, when listening to what the President has to say, it’s important to keep in mind that Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last November, making it unlikely that any truly divisive issues will ever see the light at the end of the legislative process tunnel. Look for the President to focus on bi-partisan, non-controversial issues. Or not. It's always a roll of the dice. Either way, the State of the Union is meant as a guide to give Congress a sense of the President’s priorities, but it is in no way legally binding.

After the State of the Union comes the President's formal proposal on funding federal programs, know as the President's Budget. This document probably won't drop until late February or early March. Again, this budget is not legally binding, and the Democratic House is unlikely to pay a great deal of attention to it when crafting legislation for appropriations. It will, however, provide further insight into the Administration’s priorities for the President’s next two years in office, and you can expect many of those priorities to mirror the ones laid out in his speech last night. To be fair (because that’s what many of us are in DC), other political-types disagree about the importance of the SotU. Check out what Politico had to say last year and this year.

So, if you believe me (or are at least willing to entertain the thought) you’re probably wondering why this really matters to you. As an advocate, think about the issue or issues you care about. Did President Trump mention them in his speech? Did he speak favorably about them? Are they divisive issues? Answering these questions will give you an idea of how you will need to talk to Members of Congress. While their individual stances will be more nuanced, it is likely that, at least on the surface, Democrats will oppose the President’s agenda and Republicans will support it. Understanding the state of our Union, as it stands, can help you craft your personal legislative advocacy plan for the coming year.

Stephanie Vance