We’re now more than a month into 2010, and the need for social policy prescriptions is as high as ever. In his State of the Union on January 28, President Obama admitted as much. The devastation wreaked by the current recession remains, Obama said, and “One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. And for those who’d already known poverty, life has become that much harder.” The beginning of the new decade will likely be marked by how the government responds to this hardship, and the policies that Congress and state legislatures implement will continue to redefine the modern role of government in the lives of the American people. Following are four of the major social policy trends to watch in 2010.
1) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Obama’s answer to the problems facing Americans hit hardest by the current recession is a new jobs bill. He even went so far as to state in the SOTU that “jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010.” Considering the enormous amount of time and energy (and patience!) spent on health care reform last year, it is no small thing that job creation made up the first large chunk of the speech. The House passed a $154 billion bill in December that includes money (redirected from TARP) for infrastructure spending and aid to states and extends COBRA health care subsidies from nine to 15 months. Obama urged the Senate to pass a similar bill, but with Republican Senators emboldened by recent party electoral wins—in their minds justifying their “just say no” strategy—it is uncertain that such legislation could muster the 60 votes necessary to break an inevitable Republican filibuster.
2) Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Greg Siedshlag wrote an article for the Review late last year about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s chances for repeal. Recent events, however, have made its repeal look even more likely. Less than a week after Obama urged Congress in his SOTU to repeal the law, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen voiced support for its repeal as well. Mullen explained his position by saying that gay service members should no longer be forced to “lie about who they are.” Gates and Mullen both requested a one-year review period to prepare for implementation of the repeal, but the debate is likely to heat up in the coming months, especially if the repeal is placed into a defense reauthorization bill.
3) Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Although it did not feature prominently in the SOTU, the president and his administration have voiced support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation from Congress in 2010. Although I remain skeptical that such reform is politically feasible—however necessary it may be—the issue is still worth following in 2010, as President Obama has voiced his support for legislation, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made comprehensive reform one of her major goals.
4) Spending Freeze. Finally, the spending freeze Obama proposed days before the SOTU speech will play a large role in the implementation of social programs in 2011. Although the proposed freeze will allow funds to be moved to effective programs as they are pulled from ineffective ones, it is not the “scalpel” Obama claimed was necessary in chiding John McCain over his proposed spending freeze during the 2008 presidential campaign. But if the proposal doesn’t constitute a “hatchet,” it’s at least a butcher’s knife and is likely to hamper the effectiveness of important social policies and programs as the country is still feeling the aftereffects of a prolonged recession. As much as the other issues likely to be debated in Congress, the spending freeze will be important to watch in 2010 and will, more than anything else, shape the landscape for social policy in 2011 and beyond.