For anyone who was unsure after his inauguration speech a few weeks ago, Tuesday night's State of the Union address should have removed all doubt:

Newly re-elected President Barack Obama is emboldened and intends to aggressively press his agenda during his second term.

On climate change, for instance, the president issued the gathering of lawmakers a direct challenge.

"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," he said. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

That's no idle threat.

In January, a month after the Connecticut elementary school massacre, the president approved 23 executive actions on the controversial issue of gun control.

Considering the bitter partisanship that virtually paralyzed the previous session of Congress, Obama's frustration and willingness to go it alone are understandable.

But on the other hand, the president held out an olive branch of sorts, pleading with lawmakers to "put the nation's interests before party."

Americans "expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can," he said. "For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all."


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Obama's remarks were directed at the divided Republicans who control the House of Representatives, but Democrats should also heed that advice, especially as Congress attempts to head off the devastating, automatic budget cuts set to take effect at the end of this month.

The so-called sequestration -- roughly $1 trillion in defense and non-entitlement discretionary spending cuts -- is the result of the supercommittee failing to reach a compromise on deficit reduction.

It was supposed to be so unacceptable as to force Congress to come up with a more reasonable compromise.

It didn't happen.

After more than a year of inaction, Congress late last year agreed only to extend the deadline two months.

The president said in his address, and we agree, this is no way to govern.

"The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next," Obama said. "Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America."

That will, obviously, require cooperation and compromise from both parties -- something sorely lacking in the last Congress.

Hopefully, lawmakers this session will be able to put their differences aside and seek the common ground necessary to tackle the daunting tasks ahead -- not just the manufactured ones such as the newly looming fiscal cliff, but those longbrewing, such as entitlement reform.

Executive orders should be a last resort.

But in cases where Congress fails to govern, we shouldn't be surprised to see the president act alone when he can.