SOTU set for Jan. 27

SOTU SET FOR JAN. 27…. There’s been a fair amount of chatter in recent weeks about when, exactly, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address. Will he push it off until February? Wait until health care reform is finished? Interrupt the season premier of “Lost”?

We got our answer late yesterday.

President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address on Jan. 27. The White House announced Monday afternoon that the president would speak to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday at 9 p.m.

In the televised speech to the nation, Mr. Obama will outline his priorities for the coming year as well as recount what he believes are the achievements from his first year in office. Speech writers have been working on the address for weeks, but the date had not been set, pending the outcome of the health insurance legislation in Congress.

In general, weeks of White House planning go into the SOTU event, so it’s hard to say with any certainty what political factors, if any, played a role in picking this date.

But for those of us inclined to speculate, the decision doesn’t seem all that mysterious. The West Wing has been counting on the SOTU to shift the trajectory a bit, giving Obama a chance to make his case, tout his successes, launch some new arguments, and alter the course of the national conversation. With the White House expecting to see the Democrats’ 60-vote Senate majority end this week, scheduling the prime-time speech for next week — as compared to early February — also gives the president and his team a chance to change the subject and put the Massachusetts Mess behind them.

What’s more, if there’s a genuine panic among Democratic lawmakers in the wake of the special election in Massachusetts, and hysterical members wake up tomorrow and start typing their retirement announcements, the timing of the SOTU at least gives the leadership something to offer: “The speech is just a week away. Before there’s an exodus, let’s wait and see what the president has to say.”

And then there’s health care. Assuming the Senate Dem caucus goes from 60 to 59 seats, as is likely, there will be renewed pressure on the House to wrap up the process, pass the Senate bill as-is, and get reform signed into law quickly. If Democratic leaders prioritize completion by the SOTU, this would give the House a week, which, if 218 House members were so inclined, would be more than enough time.