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State of the Union: Vanderbilt experts available for analysis

by Jan. 24, 2011, 3:55 PM

Bruce I. Oppenheimer

CONGRESS AND OBAMA

After major losses for the Democrats in the midterm elections, the State of the Union is President Barack Obama’s first opportunity to regain some control from the GOP over the nation’s agenda, says political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer.

“Look for the president to bring up issues that have been on the back burner, such as immigration reform, and to press for resolution of the partisan conflict over raising the debt ceiling,” Oppenheimer said. “The president can sound a warning to conservatives on the likelihood of a government shutdown by March if Congress does not go along with raising the debt ceiling.” He expects the president to use the Democratic-controlled Senate as the initiating point for most of his legislative proposals.

Josh Clinton

2012 PREVIEW

President Obama’s State of the Union and the Republican response by Rep. Paul Ryan could reveal much about what the next two years might hold for Congress and the country, according to political scientist Josh Clinton.

“President Obama will need to chart a course of action that addresses the many difficult issues affecting the country while also confronting the political challenge of dealing with a resurgent Republican Party that controls the House of Representatives,” Clinton said. “It is unclear how the parties will balance the need to compromise and pass legislation for the good of the country with their political aspirations for the upcoming 2012 election.

Clinton noted that the recent tragic event in Arizona involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will likely produce public appeals for respecting differences of opinion and working together on common problems, but the real test will be after the speeches. “We will have to wait to see whether actions match rhetoric,” he said.

Thomas Schwartz

FOREIGN POLICY AGENDA

Foreign issues and America’s place in the world will still remain a central concern in the Obama administration even if the president does not spend much time on foreign policy in his State of the Union address, according to presidential historian Thomas Alan Schwartz. “Obama’s primary emphasis will be on his policies to create jobs, and he will emphasize the importance of foreign trade in creating jobs, a direct rebuke to any protectionist sentiment in the Congress,” Schwartz said. “Obama might also employ the ‘Sputnik analogy,’ using the rise of China, and perhaps India, as an argument for America’s need to make significant investments in education and strengthen its economic competitiveness. In this way he will use a type of ‘foreign’ challenge or threat as a new reason for the domestic social welfare spending that Republicans have criticized and announced they wish to cut significantly in order to reduce the deficit.”

Schwartz anticipates that Obama could make a fleeting reference to the withdrawal of forces from Iraq as a fulfillment of his campaign promise, but it will be revealing as to whether the president mentions his earlier pledge to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan this summer. “This earlier pledge has been weakened in various meetings with the allies and the Afghans, and has come under a great deal of criticism,” Schwartz said.  “Obama may also talk about his continuing efforts to arrange a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, although there is relatively little hope for an imminent breakthrough on this issue.”

Matthew Springer

PERFORMACE PAY FOR TEACHERS

Paying teachers based on performance has been a component of the Obama administration’s education reform efforts. Yet the results of the nation’s first-ever scientific study of performance pay, released in September 2010 by Vanderbilt University, found that performance incentives alone for teachers had no impact on student achievement. Matthew Springer, lead author of that study, assistant professor of public policy and education, and director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, can discuss those findings as well as those from studies of performance pay and of school finance systems in Alaska, Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas and New York City to identify factors that must be in place for performance incentives to improve student achievement.

[Vanderbilt has a broadcast studio with a dedicated fiber optic line for TV interviews and an ISDN line for radio.]

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