The big news: Obama will announce in tonight’s speech that he will use executive authority to boost the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. So he’s serious about going around Congress to move his agenda and spur the recovery. It’s fair to ask what took Obama so long to realize he had little other recourse, but either way, we’re now heading for a major battle over use of that authority.

Republicans are already denouncing the planned executive actions, arguing it will make compromise between the two parties harder. But again, Republicans have openly confirmed they deliberately denied support for Obama’s agenda explicitly to make it harder for him to claim he’d bridged differences between the parties. Seriously, Mitch McConnell has publicly admitted this.

Few pundits have been willing to reckon directly with the fundamentals of GOP obstructionism. A real reckoning would acknowledge that implacable GOP opposition to the Obama agenda, which began when the country was facing a dire, open-ended economic emergency, has for years been rooted in a combination of deliberate strategic choices and structural factors that have created a deeply unbalanced, unconventional situation. Commentators refuse to deal seriously with all of this — even though it is the actual cause of the very paralysis and dysfunction they regularly claim consternation about — and it will probably be absent from discussions of whether Obama’s planned executive actions are defensible.

But there’s evidence the public is aware of the basic outlines of the situation. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the battle over executive authority is occurring in a political context that reflects already existing views of Obama and the GOP.

Obama’s approval is low, and the GOP response seems like a bet that this will make independents more receptive to the argument that he’s the one hostile to compromise. But voters take a dimmer view of the GOP’s willingness to compromise.

The new NBC/WSJ poll, for instance, finds that a majority of Americans, 51 percent, believe Republicans will be “too inflexible” with Obama, while only 25 percent say they have the balance right (one wonders about the faculties of the 17 percent who say Republicans have been “too quick to give in” to the president). By contrast, only 39 percent say Obama has been too inflexible with Republicans.

Yesterday’s Pew poll found that by a huge margin of 52-27, Americans say Dems are more willing than Republicans to work with the opposition. While the GOP holds a narrow lead on the economy, it also found lopsided Dem advantages on which party is viewed as extreme and which party is more concerned with ordinary people — suggesting, again, awareness of the basic imbalance.

Beyond all this, let’s remember that the minimum wage hike is popular – and Congressional Republicans aren’t. And people don’t care about process — they care about results.

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* SENATE DEMS TO CAMPAIGN HARD ON POPULISM: The Post’s Zachary Goldfarb reports that Democrats are set to campaign on the populist template laid out in the SOTU speech today, even in red states:

Democratic strategists consider the debate over the minimum wage and unemployment insurance important in some of the most competitive races. Sen. Kay Hagan has been criticizing Republicans for allowing unemployment benefits to expire. And Democratic long-shot Senate candidates such as Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia are focusing on the minimum wages in their states.

Also: As I’ve reported here, this also allows Dems to shift the debate over Obamacare into a larger context that emphasizes the ways in which expanding health coverage for poor and working people addresses a pocketbook concern — a case that can be made even in states where the law itself remains very unpopular.

* THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT FOR EXECUTIVE ACTION: Paul Krugman zeros in on a key point:

The whole politics of poverty since the 70s has rested on the popular belief that the poor are Those People, not like us hard-working real Americans. This belief has been out of touch with reality for decades — but only now does reality seem to be breaking in. But what it means now is that conservatives claiming that character defects are the source of poverty, and that poverty programs are bad because they make life too easy, are now talking to an audience with large numbers of Not Those People who realize that they are among those who sometimes need help from the safety net.

This is the larger context for the debate over Obama’s push for government intervention to improve economic mobility, as well as the vow to use executive action where necessary. The Hammock Theory of Poverty won’t wash anymore.

* REPUBLICANS SET TO MAKE MOVE ON IMMIGRATION: The New York Times has the most detailed look yet at the forthcoming House GOP “principles” on immigration reform, which will include a form of legalization for the 11 million. Here’s the key bit:

The statement of principles criticizes the American higher education system for educating some of the world’s best and brightest students only to lose them to their home countries because they cannot obtain green cards; insists that Republicans demand that current immigration laws be enforced before illegal immigrants are granted legal status; and mentions that some kind of triggers must be included in an immigration overhaul to ensure that borders are secured first, said Republican officials who have seen the principles.

It is a real step forward that Republicans are embracing legalization in principle. But as noted here yesterday, if the triggers that precede legalization could mean millions  left in legal limbo for years, it suggests Republicans aren’t serious about real reform.

* CONSERVATIVES GEARING UP TO BLOCK REFORM: Also in the above Times piece, conservatives who oppose reform are organizing a “rebellion” against the GOP leadership, arguing that the revival of reform blindsided them. This is a key observation that goes to why Republicans may decide it’s just not worth the trouble this year:

Immigration is less of an issue during midterm elections, when immigrants are not as likely to vote and House members in safe districts are insulated somewhat from the wrath of more moderate swing voters.

Not only that, but there are very few contested GOP districts that have enough Latinos to make a difference.

Also note that anti-reform diehard Jeff Sessions says any Republican voting for reform is going along with “the president.” There will be a lot more of that.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM NOT HIGH PRIORITY: If reform doesn’t happen, this will be one of the reasons why: A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that only 39 percent of Americans think reform needs to be a priority this year, and that only edges up to 42 percent on whether it should happen next year. As always, reform will only happen if Republicans decide they need it for the long term good of the party, which they may not do, given the supposed invulnerability of their House majority.

 * ANOTHER BOOST FOR THE MEDICAID EXPANSION: Democrats appear to have won control of the Senate in Virginia, which will give Dem governor Terry McAuliffe new leverage for the push to expand Medicaid in this state. McAuliffe won in part by campaigning on the Medicaid expansion here — where some 200,000 are in peril of falling into the “Medicaid gap” — and if he can secure an expansion in a major swing state that is trending blue, that could have far reaching implications.

* AND POLL FINDS SUPPORT FOR IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL: A new Associated Press poll finds that a solid majority of Americans, 60 percent, supports the deal temporarily curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions. Fewer — 47 percent — think it will work long term, which means many Americans want to give it a chance even if it isn’t certain to succeed.

Mystifyingly, some Dems appear to think it’s politically difficult to give the deal a chance to work without voting on a new sanctions bill to show how tough on Iran they are, but really, allowing diplomacy to proceed shouldn’t be too hard a position to explain to a public that wants diplomacy to work.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.