Republican lawmakers are setting the stage for a disastrous two years in Congress marked by manufactured crisis after crisis and ignoring the needs of working families. Fortunately, President Barack Obama is showing some much-needed backbone by refusing to cave to the GOP’s agenda.

Obama ended the year by taking a strong stand on Net Neutrality and firm action on immigration, followed by the seemingly out-of-the-blue announcement that the United States will normalize relations with Cuba.

Now he’s started the new year with the equally unexpected announcement of a plan to provide two years of tuition-free community college to “any student willing to work for it.”

The plan, titled America’s College Promise, is modeled after Tennessee Promise, a program signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Haslam and supported by Republican Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander from that state.

Students at Community College

.michael.newman./Flickr

The White House will release more details after Obama delivers his State of the Union address. He will introduce proposals for funding the program, which is key to pushing the initiative through the Congressional gridlock.

As a recent report from the think tank Demos points out, a stronger initiative would ensure not just free tuition, but debt-free education — tuition makes up a fairly small part of community college expenses.

The United States Student Association, the country’s largest student-led organization, supported Obama’s proposal, calling it a “big deal.” At the same time, the group reiterated its support for a future United States with “truly free higher education.”

The community college program, if implemented, would back up Obama’s vow to not let Congress’s intransigence hold him back from pursuing policies important to the American people.

His executive actions on raising the minimum wage for government contractors, along with his declared intention to veto the Keystone XL pipeline, offer additional proof that he is serious.

In stark contrast to Obama’s populist actions, the Republican majority in Congress is setting the stage to continue its unrelenting attack on working families.

After the outsized role played by the wealthy in the most recent election — with the top 100 donors matching the combined donations of the nearly 5 million people who gave $200 or less — the push for policies that benefit the 1 percent at the expense of the poor should come as no surprise.

For an illuminating example, look no further than the Republican attack on Social Security on the first day of the new legislative session. Social Security, the most successful anti-poverty program in United States history, has unwavering public support.

The latest attack on the nation’s biggest retirement program came in the form of a measure House Republicans introduced regarding their bi-annual rule changes, a normally mundane affair, to prevent funds from moving freely within the Social Security Administration.

This change, while seemingly minor, was designed to create a future showdown over the solvency of Social Security with the potential for an arbitrary and unnecessary cut in benefits to recipients.

Obama’s support for Social Security hasn’t exactly been solid. And his support for a corporate-hugging international pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership is troubling to say the least.

However, credit should be given where it’s due. The Obama administration’s recent show of backbone is a hopeful sign for what’s ahead in the next two years.

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Josh Hoxie

Josh Hoxie is the director of the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies IPS-dc.org

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