President Barack Obama threw out a lot of big ideas during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, but how would they affect you? Here’s a quick look at seven proposals he previewed even before the speech, in order of how likely they are to be enacted soon.
Reducing mortgage premiums
The idea: Obama proposed reducing mortgage insurance premiums on government-backed loans rates in order to make it easier for low-income Americans to buy homes.
What he’s said: “For us, and millions of Americans like us, buying a home has always been about more than owning a roof and four walls. It’s about investing in savings, and building a family, and planting roots in a community … I’m going to take a new action to help even more responsible families stake their claim on the middle class and buy their first new home.” (Jan. 8, 2015)
How it would affect you: The proposal would cut insurance fees for homes bought with Federal Housing Administration-backed loans, saving borrowers an average of $900 a year.
Will it happen: Yes. The policy will be implemented by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is under Obama’s control.
Expanding travel to Cuba
The idea: Obama called for normalizing relations with Cuba, a process he’s already started by easing travel and commercial restrictions with the island nation.
What he’s said: “Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born… I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.” (Dec. 17, 2014)
How it would affect you: You will soon be able to catch a flight directly to Cuba without getting a special license, use credit and debit cards there and bring back cigars.
Will it happen: Mostly. Obama has already taken steps to restore relations with Cuba, although Congress is unlikely to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo anytime soon.
Cutting methane emissions
The idea: Obama called for reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas industry by fixing leaky equipment and reducing “flaring” of natural gas.
What he’s said: Speaking about a photograph of Earth from space: “And that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear — the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity — that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for.” (June 25, 2013)
How it would affect you: Depending on where you live, the proposal could raise your energy rates. It would also reduce a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Will it happen: Likely. The proposal is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard rules-making process, which Obama oversees.
Preventing ‘fast lanes’ on the Internet
The idea: Obama called for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband Internet as a utility, which would give regulators more power over providers like Comcast.
What he’s said: “High-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. … This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy. It’s about giving the entrepreneur, the small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley, or across the globe.” (Jan. 14, 2015)
How it would affect you: Some Internet providers want to offer so-called “fast lanes” for customers who pay more. This proposal would likely bar that.
Will it happen? Unclear. The FCC is an independent agency, but Obama’s backing gives the idea much more prominence in the debate.
Notifying consumers of data hacks
The idea: Obama called on Congress to pass the Personal Data Notification and Protection Act, which would require companies to notify customers within 30 days if they’d been hacked.
What he’s said: “If we’re going to be connected, then we need to be protected. As Americans, we shouldn’t have to forfeit our basic privacy when we go online to do our business.” (Jan. 12, 2015)
How it would affect you: Over the last year, JPMorgan Chase, Target, Home Depot and P.F. Chang’s have all had data breaches. You might hear sooner about those if they affect you.
Will it happen: Unclear. Many states already require companies notify affected customers, so it’s not too heavy of a lift to call for a national standard.
Making community college free
The idea: Obama proposed the federal government work with states to offer two years of free community-college tuition to students who maintain good grades.
What he’s said: “For millions of Americans, community colleges are essential pathways to the middle class because they’re local, they’re flexible. They work for people who work full-time. They work for parents who have to raise kids full-time. They work for folks who have gone as far as their skills will take them and want to earn new ones…” (Jan. 9, 2015)
How it would affect you: If you’re looking to go to community college, you could save $3,800 a year on tuition. You could then use existing financial aid programs for housing and books.
Will it happen: Unlikely. Congressional Republicans are not likely to go along with the plan, which would cost up to $60 billion over 10 years.
Offering paid sick leave
The idea: Obama called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would require companies to offer workers an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work.
What he’s said: “There are 43 million Americans who don’t get paid sick leave, which when you think about it is a pretty astonishing statistic. And that means that no matter how sick they are, or how sick a family member is, they may find themselves having to choose to be able to buy groceries or pay the rent, or look after themselves or their children.” (Jan. 15, 2015)
How it would affect you: Right now, most employers are required to offer up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for family health problems, but many workers can’t afford to take it.
Will it happen: Unlikely. Hill Republicans are unlikely to even allow a vote on the bill, which had only Democratic sponsors in the last Congress.
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