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Editorial: Hope for progress on immigration, infrastructure

State of the Union addresses are less a description of reality than a laundry list of presidential goals. So barring a recapture of the House by Democrats in 2014, what on President Obama’s second term to-do list – universal preschool, immigration reform, an increased minimum wage, action on climate change, gun control, rebuilding the infrastructure – might actually be accomplished?

Immigration reform at some level strikes us as likely to happen. Mitt “self-deport” Romney’s dismal showing among Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic group in the country, has convinced Republicans that a stance perceived as anti-immigrant will relegate them to electoral irrelevancy. So, as evidenced by Sen. Marco Rubio’s selection to give the Republican rebuttal, the party’s leaders intend to change course.

Steps to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions also seem likely, but not because Congress sees the light, or rather feels the heat, and decides to act. Instead, the president will, as he threatened, use executive orders to increase energy efficiency standards and tighten restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Judging from House Speaker John Boehner’s muttered “never happen,” an increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour, as important as that would be to the well-being of millions of low-income Americans, will almost certainly drown in the dismal swamp of partisan politics.

Because it’s long overdue and would create jobs in Republican and Democratic districts, there may be hope for compromise on a “Fix-it-First” plan to at least begin rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Obama called for public-private partnerships that would encourage investors to fund the rebuilding of outdated water and sewage treatment plants, pipelines and other infrastructure in exchange for tax credits and the opportunity to recoup their investment through rates. That too, might find favor with the Republican-controlled House.

That Obama will succeed in reinstituting the ban on assault-style weapons, or even on large-capacity magazines which increase their firepower, strikes us as a long shot. But agreement might be reached on requiring background checks for all gun purchasers. For that to make a meaningful difference, however, some means must be found to balance the rights of people who receive mental health treatment with the need to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of disturbed and potentially violent people. That balance will not be easily found.

Finally, there’s Obama’s call for universal preschool, something other nations have already achieved. The president cited an estimate that placed the savings for every $1 invested in preschool education at $7. Others, when increase earnings and tax revenue, reduced odds of incarceration or need for public assistance are included, say the savings may be at least twice that.

It’s the red states of Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia that have done the most to educate 4-year-olds. That, the long-term savings, and improved ability to compete in a global economy of a society that begins educating its children at an early age, gives us some hope that progress on universal preschool is possible.

But first, Congress must agree not to push the nation off a fiscal cliff next month.

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White House calls draft immigration plan a backup By PHILIP ELLIOTT | Associated Press – 3 hrs ago WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats alike on Sunday predicted President Barack Obama would fail if he pushed forward with his own effort to overhaul the nation's immigration system and urged the administration to hold off while lawmakers work on a bipartisan measure.

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