That’s how Barack Obama’s first official State of the Union speech-in-progress was described to me over the phone by a friend who called right as I left class a few minutes earlier than 10:00 p.m. last night. He was right.
A year ago today, another world leader took to the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and warned against making “simple and popular decisions in times of crisis,” against “excessive intervention in economic activity,” against “the unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts,” and against perpetuating a culture of “blind faith in the state’s omnipotence.”
That leader was Vladimir Putin. He knew where such a course of action would take a nation. He knew that when the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute, in the long run it “made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive.”
In his first year in office, Barack Obama has made every mistake that Vladimir Putin, capitalist pig for a day, warned of. This is the story of how the American president has refused to learn his lesson.
Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.
Right away, if I were a cynic, I would write something along the lines of: “Oh, so he HAS read the Constitution after all!” The thing is, I know for a fact that President Barack Obama has read the United States Constitution.
As a law student, he studied it at Harvard Law School.
As a professor, he *shudder* taught impressionable law students about it at the University of Chicago.
And, as a state senator, he obviously knew enough about the Constitution to give a 2001 public radio interview in which he lamented that the United States Supreme Court “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society,” that the Court had not facilitated the ability for America to “break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution,” and that, because the Constitution itself never forced the redistribution of wealth to African Americans, it was a document with a “fundamental flaw” that “reflected the enormous blind spot in this culture that carries on until this day.”
Oh, he’s read the Constitution, all right. It just doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it does to the rest of us.
It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.
Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.
One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.
But the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.
First of all, the United States of America prevailed because of its system of government, a system of government that has faith in and relies upon the power of the individual. Reliance upon government as a panacea is what has kept nations which have been around many times as long as the United States perpetually in our shadow. It is that delicate balance of liberty, situated precariously between tyranny and anarchy, which has allowed us to progress economically, socially and morally so much faster than anybody else. And that balance, folks, is precisely what is imperiled by this administration.
Secondly, action in the face of recession and on the brink of economic collapse certainly was necessary. But it was the action this administration has taken, action which further expanded the size, scope and reach of the federal government while stifling the private sector, which has led this nation further into debt, which has taken an unemployment rate of less than eight percent and augmented it to more than ten. It is this action which has interrupted the natural economic cycle, not unlike how FDR’s New Deal policies extended the Great Depression by up to seven years. And it is this action which, unabated, will throw us over the edge for good, any mild faux recovery be damned.
Finally, if he’s so concerned about those who have already known poverty and continue to be so acquainted, this president should have provided true tax relief to small businesses, scrapped plans to increase energy costs through cap-and-trade and health care costs through so-called health care reform, thus reducing the tax burden and eliminating unnecessary uncertainty. Slash the corporate tax rate to somewhere around 15 percent, provide an income tax and capital gains tax holiday — that’s how you get people employed, that’s how you bring people out of poverty.
Undoubtedly, this speech was a chance for this president to set the tone for this year’s elections. By going out on a limb and telling the American people with a nudge, a wink and a blind bat that, somehow, “the worst of the storm has passed,” President Obama is fomenting a go-to talking point sure to be parroted by leftist candidates and media types as we get closer and closer to the mid-term elections in November. The question is whether the economy will follow suit and back this president up, and whether the American people will believe it at all.
This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.
So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.
For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.
Two minutes into the speech, and we’re already seeing the first shot across the bow at Wall Street and evil, evil profiteering. Followed by a shot at Republicans on Capitol Hill. Alas, that classic Obama mixture of populism and soaring rhetoric; it’s like 2008 all over again.
The bigger issue here is that, if anything has “compounded the burden” on American families as he mentioned, it’s the increase in tuition costs due to the growing governmental monopoly on financial aid for college students, it’s the trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars in debt that the spendthrift tendencies of this administration and Congress and the last administration and Congress has placed squarely on the shoulders of our children.
So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.
I’m not entirely certain what the “numbing weight of our politics” means. Is it a way to blame the very nature of the representative republic itself rather than the bankrupt ideas of this White House and liberalism as a whole? It certainly could be construed that way. Or perhaps it’s just an acknowledgment that, when you’re a big guy like myself, if you sleep on your arm funny it might go numb for a while. Somehow, I doubt it’s the latter; regardless, I find it extremely funny that President Obama is urging the two parties to “work through our differences” — would he be saying the same thing if he weren’t giving his first official State of the Union address from such a weak political position?
You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They’re coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”
It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.
And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.
He could start by asking pretty much everyone to leave the room and never come back. That would be a good start in what would otherwise be the insurmountable task of bringing decency into Washington, D.C. But heck, Christopher Dodd is retiring and Harry Reid is sure to be sent packing — that alone should be enough to get things moving in the right direction.
It begins with our economy.
Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.
Wait a minute. Didn’t Barack Obama vote in favor of the bank bailout? Sure, he didn’t get all melodramatic and pull his presidential campaign to a grinding halt so he could rush back to Washington, D.C. and posture for the cameras, in the process putting himself smack-dab in the middle of a very publicly undesireable situation. Only a fool would do that!
Nevertheless, if Barack Obama truly hated the bank bailout, if it was about as enjoyable as a root canal, why didn’t he oppose it with the same fervor that he, say, opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act while a state lawmaker in Illinois? Why didn’t he come out and say that he and his colleagues were merely doing “what was necessary” then?
But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.
So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.
To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.
Okay, first of all, it’s not a “fee.” It’s a tax. Heck, even The New York Times knows it’s a tax. What’s amazing is that the president claims that he wants banking institutions to lend money again, and yet he’s ensuring that they have less money to lend. What’s even more amazing is that this tax would not only adversely affect those institutions which have yet to repay bailout funds advanced by the government, but also the institutions which have already repaid the money, and even institutions which had nothing whatsoever to do with the credit crisis and economic downturn.
Furthermore, why is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not affected by this new “fee?” Those two entities certainly had plenty to do with the meltdown, after all.
As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.
That’s why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.
Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.
The extension and increase in unemployment benefits has sounded great, but slowly and surely the individual states forced to extend such benefits in exchange for consideration in the form of stimulus funds are soon going to be left with massive unfunded mandates when the taxpayer-funded stimulus cash runs out. That was the basis of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s pre-Appalachian Trail petition to the White House that his state be allowed to use the funds to pay down existing debt rather than establish an unfunded mandate waiting to happen.
A few other things on President Obama’s mind-boggling list of accomplishments:
- The extra $13 appearing on the paychecks of many working Americans may technically have been a “tax cut,” but under no circumstances was it enough to make any discernible difference in spending behavior. If the federal government is going to go the route of cutting taxes–as it should–such cuts should be something which will have either a great long-term effect or a striking short-term effect; Obama’s extra two Subway footlongs per week did neither.
- The homebuyers’ tax credit is just that — a tax credit. It’s not a tax cut. As a credit, though, from what I’ve heard it has received mixed reviews. Some real estate professionals I’ve spoken with have touted the credit’s effect upon a stagnant market, while others say that people are either buying or they’re not. I do know, though, that we will be putting our home on the market within two weeks’ time, intentionally doing so in order to hopefully find a buyer looking to close before the April deadline for the credit.
- Providing tax relief to people who pay no taxes to begin with is not tax relief at all — it is precisely the type of wealth redistribution that President Obama told Joe Wurzelbacher about in the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election
At any rate, that President Obama is touting tax cuts at all should reinforce the idea that the American people want to hear conservative ideas. They have a hankering for responsibility. They know that a dollar in their own pocket can stretch a whole lot further than one in the government’s coffers.
Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. 200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.
The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.
Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.
Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.
Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.
There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.
Perhaps the president slept in on Sunday? After all, it was during the Sunday morning talk shows only a few days ago that his top flunkies completely embarrassed him and his administration on national television, each coming up with a different number with regard to the nebulous quantification of “jobs saved or created.”
Valerie Jarrett told David Gregory on NBC’s Meet The Press that The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “saved thousands and thousands of jobs.” Robert Gibbs told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that the administration’s stimulus bill had “saved or created 1.5 million jobs.” David Axelrod said on CNN’s State of the Union that the Recovery Act has “saved more than two million jobs.”
Not only did president Obama take the high end of the across-the-map estimate, he also got more specific than I would think anybody is capable of doing. The idea of a “saved” job is impossible to measure with specificity — and yet he’s not only supposedly able to measure the total amount, he’s actually able to break that amount down by industry? Please. Save it. This is the same administration, after all, which released a fraudulent report on its new, $18 million Recovery.gov Web site which claimed that stimulus money was spent and jobs were created in congressional districts which do not exist.
In a November 18, 2009 piece for The Hill‘s Congress Blog, South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson–who was noticeably and notably quiet tonight, by the way–acknowledged that some of the real money was apparently allotted to fictitious districts in the Palmetto State. Six million dollars to create six jobs in the non-existent 16th congressional district. Three million dollars spent but no new jobs in the fake 43rd congressional district. $1.8 million for 1.4 new jobs in the fake 00 congressional district. What, exactly, is four-tenths of a job, anyway? A community organizer?
“This would be funny, but the money belongs to taxpayers, not the government,” Wilson wrote. “I know we have been asking this administration to show us the jobs, but this isn’t what we had in mind.”
The Department of Labor shows that three million jobs have been lost on President Obama’s watch. The true unemployment rate is upwards of 16 or 17 percent. Pardon me if I’m not applauding the administration’s track record for accuracy or effectiveness.
But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.
Funny — I thought the Recovery Act was a jobs bill. Heck, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even said so herself, telling her colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives that the legislation was about four things: “Jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs.” Those jobs, and the economic stimulus they insisted would follow, was to come from an America teeming with shovel-ready infrastructure projects which, with just a dose of taxpayer money, would have at the ready a hard hat for every skull.
Then again, when has Nancy Pelosi ever had a clue? This, after all, is the same woman who at this time last year famously said: “Every month we do not have an economic recovery package, 500 million Americans lose their jobs.”
And so they got their jobs bill last year in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Only it wasn’t about jobs after all. So now the president wants a new jobs bill. And he swears, I’d bet, that this one will actually be a jobs bill. You know, because jobs are the number one focus in 2010.
Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.
Yes it can. By getting the Hell out of the way.
We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.
Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.
So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.
I’ll definitely take the elimination of capital gains taxes on small business investment. By golly, he’s talking tax cuts and sounding conservative again.
The new hire tax credit, for example, is just another example of populist nonsense. The idea that a three- or five- or eight-thousand-dollar tax credit would be enough to entice a small business owner to take on the additional expense of a new worker is preposterous. Plus, didn’t Jimmy Carter already give it a go? Wasn’t it fraught with fraudulent claims by small business owners who terminated and then re-hired the same people?
As it turns out, Carter did. It was 1977 and Jimmy “Dhimmi” Carter passed the New Jobs Tax Credit as part of his own economic stimulus package. It provided federal wage subsidies for the following two years to companies which hired new workers — but while the unemployment rate dropped for those two years slightly, it skyrocketed afterward due to the lack of federal subsidies. It appears that Barack Obama is ready to do the same; it may be change, but it’s not growth.
Nevertheless, going to bat for small business owners across the country is something that, politically, Barack Obama has little choice but to do. The issue, though, is that his pet projects of health care reform and cap-and-trade pack along with them so much uncertainty for the very people he’s trying to engender himself to, that it will be little surprise if most entrepreneurs dismiss this latest effort as political posturing.
It just cannot be easy to believe that a political establishment which traditionally has tried to make things more difficult for American business is suddenly pushing for its success; more likely, this is a move to bring the anger in the business community down a notch, especially in the wake of the recent Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court, which opens up the political arena to corporations looking to contribute.
Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete.
Ha! Leave it to the State of the Union address to turn Orrin Boyle into Hank Rearden.
There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.
Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.
The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.
But the truth is, these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.
We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.
Someone needs to explain to Barack Obama where the whole “Lost Decade” nickname comes from. Short answer: it comes from the 1990s in Japan, and the tremendous economic difficulties there were caused by the very same Keynesian malarkey advanced by this administration at the beginning of his term last year, not to mention by FDR in the mid-1930s. To misappropriate the phrase and use it to slight the Bush administration is little more than populist nonsense.
The thing is, during that so-called “lost decade” on our own shores, jobs grew slowly — but they grew. The jobless rate in October 2007 was 4.7 percent. Now it’s upwards of ten percent, and counting. Yet the Bush administration is somehow at fault here. Of course.
From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.
For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:
How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?
You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.
Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America.
He’s right about China and Germany and India not waiting to “revamp” their economies. He’s right that these are nations which “aren’t standing still” and “aren’t playing for second place.” But it’s not that they’re putting more emphasis on math and science, and it’s not entirely because they’re rebuilding infrastructure or making investments in clean energy. It’s that these nations have slashed corporate tax rates, while we look to increase the cost of business for American corporations. It’s that these nations are embracing capitalism, while in our own nation the very idea has become taboo.
At the rate President Obama is going, among China, Germany and India the United States will soon be in fourth place. We will lose because we will be busy putting unnecessary caps on our own productivity, because we will be strangling stifling and forcing overseas–to China, Germany and India–American business and industry with environmental regulations based upon junk science and increased costs associated with health care reform legislation less about reform and more about redistribution. We are doing this to ourselves, and if we are losing this particular footrace, it is because of the shackles put onto our ankles by this administration.
As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.
One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.
[CAMERA 3: Cut to Barney Frank.]
We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.
I’m no economic genius. I’ve never pretended to be. Risk, however, is an essential component to investment. Risk begets reward. And a federal government which steps in to legislate risk is a federal government which runs afoul of the United States Constitution. Nowhere in that document is there any authority for Congress, the White House, the Treasury Secretary or anyone else to step in, declare one entity or another a “systemic risk,” and wrest control from that entity’s officers.
Obama uses the royal “we” here, as in “we can’t allow financial institutions … to take risks that threaten the whole economy,” but I challenge him or anyone else for that matter to show, in our founding documents, where this is the domain of the government at all.
The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.
Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.
YES! YES! YES!
And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.
NO! NO! NO!
I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.
To be honest, I do like how he essentially acknowledged that the so-called “science” behind the farce that is man-made global warming has been proven fraudulent–through, among other things, the release of those hacked e-mails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, which showed that climatologists supporting the detrimental climate change fiction destroyed evidence which would have proven them wrong–and then couched it with the greater message of greater good. We do need to be better stewards of the earth, and we do need to develop efficient sources of clean energy — but not at the expense of using the resources God has given us, and using our technological prowess to build clean and effective nuclear power facilities.
Shoot, perhaps he threw in the nuclear power line in order to bait the cap-and-trade hook for Republicans. We’ll see. Also — did he just admit that clean energy cannot and will not be profitable, or is it just me? After all, it’s only through incentives provided at the expense of other, profitable sources of energy that clean energy can become profitable, right? Am I hearing that right? Either way, I think it’s fairly obvious that, if the market wanted clean energy, we would be awash in clean energy by now.
Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.
We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.
So, we’re going to enforce the rules but look to liberalize trade at the same time? I’m really, really an amateur when it comes to matters of trade, but even knowing little about particulars this just seems to smack of Capitol Hill double-talk to me. Also, wouldn’t truly doubling our exports have a disastrous effect upon the already troubled dollar?
Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.
This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.
“In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.” This, from a president who is an ardent opponent of school choice. He pulled the plug on the voucher program in Washington, D.C.
When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.
Well, this is certainly one way to attempt to re-awaken the young crowd who propelled Barack Obama into office in 2008. Admittedly, as a guy who has racked up more than $140,000 in student loan debt over the past four year, this particular brand of populism begins to sound a little nice. But providing a tuition bailout for government workers only encourages more and more government workers, especially if the tuition benefits are better for so-called “public service” workers than for workers in the private sector.
For a group that doesn’t understand the connection between incentive and economic growth, the Democrats sure do seem to understand the relationship between incentive and a rapidly-bloating bureaucracy and federal workforce.
Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment – their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.
Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.
Oh, sure he did. Back at this time in 2008, when then Sen. Barack Obama was in the primary fight of his life against Hillary Clinton, he adopted as his own goal the same sort of thing Clinton was unable to spearhead during her eight years as First Lady. It was indeed popular during the primary. What happened, however, is that the American people began to take notice and pay attention. They read the bills, they listened to the debate and discourse, and they overwhelmingly said “no.”
Barack Obama’s brand of health care reform was indeed popular at one time, but that popularity went right out the window during the late spring and early summer of 2009, when ordinary, c0ncerned Americans from coast-to-coast made signs from Sharpies and posterboard and took to the town square to stand up for their rights, and when they packed out meeting halls and church basements across the country for the chance to quiz their elected representatives about their opinion of and role in this administration’s plan to destroy our health care system.
Even considering the relative popularity of health care reform at one time, Barack Obama didn’t choose to advance this part of the left’s agenda because of it. Of course he didn’t. Barack Obama chose to tackle this issue because of the implications it has in getting the American people addicted to the teat of the federal government.
I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.
And now the nation as a whole is just one piece of God-awful legislation away from financial ruin.
After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.
This moment with Michelle Obama was actually pretty cute. She apparently decided to put the biceps away for an evening and, to be honest, looked very nice. I don’t know if folks down there are working to soften her image a little bit, but it’s working. She didn’t look angry — and given that her husband was delivering a populist nightmare of a speech for a position of political weakness, and given that she was sitting above Republican Party lawmakers who were doubtlessly shaking their heads at every outrageous, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she were a little vexed.
A little more than a week ago, when my wife and I were watching Scott Brown give his victory speech up in Massachusetts, my wife took one look at Brown’s wife up on the stage, turned to me and said, “honey, I don’t know if I could ever do that.” She’d be uncomfortable, she said, knowing that so many eyes were on her, both live and on the other side of the camera lens in living rooms across America. So, when the First Lady sheepishly motioned for everyone to please sit down, and when the president smiled and ad-libbed that “she gets embarrassed” (and ad-libbing isn’t an easy thing to do for a guy hooked on his TelePrompTers), I smiled as well.
Back to business, though. The way to give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market is to make the market more competitive. And the way you do that, folks, is in opening up that market across state lines. There are more than 1,700 companies out there across the country aching to provide health insurance to the American people — make them work against each other. Another way you bring down costs is to allow small businesses and individuals to pool their risk in order to essentially do a group buy. But neither of these common sense measures are included in the Democratic Party’s plans for so-called health care reform. They focus on expanding government and redistributing wealth.
That’s why, despite what the president said during his speech, the Congressional Budget Office found that the Democrats’ $2 trillion plan for health care reform would actually increase premiums for Americans, and that the plan advanced by Republicans, which would cost $61 billion instead of $2 trillion, would actually cut premiums. The answer is less government, not more — but that will never, ever get through to folks like the president, who throw out economic realities in favor of throwing taxpayer-funded entitlements at middle and lower-class families.
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Since when has an entitlement program of any sort, nonetheless one of this size, ever brought down the deficit? Ever? In times like these, I only wish there were some easy-to-follow video, produced by some fantastic group of thinkers. Oh, wait — there is!
Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.
According to CBS News, President Obama gave 411 speeches, comments and remarks during 2009, 52 of those being addresses or statements focused on explaining his health care reform proposals to the American people. He gave 42 press conferences, of which five were formal events and four were televised in prime time. He provided a whopping 158 interviews, 90 of which were on television. He conducted 23 town hall meetings, 21 of which were on American soil.
This is a guy who was on the Late Show with David Letterman. He did Leno before Leno was Conan. There was one weekend in which he was on every single Sunday morning talk show except for Fox News Sunday. Five shows, simultaneously. Listen, if the president did not explain his health care reform proposals more clearly to the American people, it certainly was not for lack of effort. In fact, the more the president explained his proposals, the less the American people wanted anything to do with any of it.
And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.
But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.
Alas, the whole “party of no” attack. Oh, those hopelessly obstructionist Republicans! Oh, all they can do is say “no.” The fact is, Republicans have proposed a better approach. It comes down to what I call the “Doctrine of Constructive Obstructionism,” and the Republicans are performing it brilliantly. I’ve written about it several times here, it’s hardly anything groundbreaking, but it nonetheless involves a four-part process.
- See a particularly ugly idea or piece of legislation and say “No.”
- Propose quality, feasible, fact-based common sense alternatives.
- Unify behind those alternatives.
- Repeat #1 mercilessly, giving zero ground to Democrats looking to undermine American freedom, liberty, growth, prosperity or security.
All throughout last year, Republicans did just that — though if you listened solely to the mainstream press, you’d believe that the GOP has been the legislative equivalent of a frustrated three-year-old. Back in November, in fact, House Republicans released their own plan for health care reform, and the draft bill they put together came in at roughly 230 pages instead of Pelosi’s 1,990, and at a ten-year cost of only $61 billion to the Democrats’ almost $2 trillion. In it, they highlighted what they deemed “common-sense, responsible solutions that address the rising cost of health care and other major problems.” Consider the Republicans’ focus on cost, as opposed to how Kentucky Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth admitted, in a Fox News interview that day, that on his side of the aisle “nobody ever believe we can actually bring costs down.”
Contrary to popular–and populist–belief, Republicans haven’t merely stopped at “no.” They’ve instead been continuing on with specific alternatives and ideas for common sense reforms which will actually reduce health care costs and increase access to coverage without stifling the ingenuity inherent in our free market system, without sacrificing care for seniors, and without driving a nail into the coffin of American small business.
That’s constructive obstructionism. And that’s exactly what the Republicans did back in November by penning draft legislation of their own, and even yesterday with the “budgetary roadmap” filed by Rep. Paul Ryan. And that’s what Republicans have been doing all along, whether it be through the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2009 introduced in May of last year, the Medical Rights & Reform Act or the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act introduced in June, the Empowering Patients First Act or the Improving Health Care for All Americans Act or even the Promoting Health and Preventing Chronic Disease through Prevention and Wellness Programs for Employees, Communities, and Individuals Act of 2009 introduced in July, or the Improved Employee Access to Health Insurance Act of 2009 and Health Insurance Access for Young Workers and College Students Act of 2009 introduced last November.
If Barack Obama wants to look for the “party of no,” he should look at his own group. They’re the ones who say “no” to transparency. They’re the ones who say “no” to including Republicans in key negotiations. They’re the ones who say “no” to prosperity, growth, freedom and the very idea of American exceptionalism.
Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.
So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.
Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.
I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.
Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.
This is much of what I wrote about yesterday here at America’s Right in a State of the Union preview entitled Ready For His Close-Up. In that piece, I noted the significance of the most far-left president of the United States in generations jumping to the right when spooked, at least with regard to this particular issue. “Simply put,” I wrote, “liberal ideas cannot stand on their own.” Hence the spending freeze.
Not only is such a freeze disingenuous, but it will also be ineffective. As I pointed out yesterday, it’s just more empty rhetoric from a president who, with each passing day, is exposing himself to be more of an empty suit. Non-defense discretionary spending–the kind Obama wants to freeze–accounts for only anywhere between one-eighth and one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and freezing it for the next three years would save only about $250 billion over the next decade. Furthermore, as I said yesterday, the freeze would neither affect the money still to be spent from the $787 billion “stimulus” package, nor would it affect the looming Carteresque $150+ billion “jobs” bill the president spoke about earlier, or even the looming $900 billion health care reform bill. Or even entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. Therefore, any budgetary savings this administration finds, forces or fabricates would be offset by the off-budget costs of things like fiscal stimulus and health care reform.
We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.
Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.
Three things here: first, we hear more Bush-bashing from a president who claims to seek bipartisanship; second, it seems a little counterproductive to create a new bureaucracy–this “Fiscal Commission”–in order to address a problem caused by the ever-expanding size of government; third, according to the brilliant folks at The Heritage Foundation, there are six primary problems with pay-as-you-go rules:
- PAYGO Would Not Decrease the Growth of Federal Spending. PAYGO is not designed to reduce federal spending. It is not even designed to slow the growth rate of spending. It only limits the creation of new entitlement benefits above the spending growth baseline. In fact, entitlement spending grew faster after statutory PAYGO took effect in 1991.
- PAYGO Exempts Discretionary Spending. Discretionary spending programs–which comprise nearly 40 percent of the federal budget–are totally exempt from PAYGO rules. In other words, Congress could provide unlimited budget increases to most defense, education, health research, justice, international, environmental, veterans’ health, homeland security, and housing programs without triggering PAYGO. This loophole is a major flaw that substantially weakens PAYGO.
- PAYGO Exempts Current Entitlement Benefits. Under PAYGO, current entitlement programs can continue to grow on autopilot. Only newly created entitlement benefits must be offset. In short, PAYGO would not prevent (a) Social Security from growing 6 percent annually; (b) Medicare and Medicaid from growing 7 percent annually; and (c) Nominal entitlement spending from nearly doubling over the next decade. PAYGO could theoretically slow down the creation of any new entitlements. Yet the nation’s main budgetary challenges stem from the $44 trillion unfunded obligation from Social Security and Medicare, as well as the growing costs of current entitlements like Medicaid. PAYGO would do nothing to reduce the growth rate of these programs.
- PAYGO Employs a Double Standard That Raises Taxes. Every few years, Congress must review and renew most entitlement programs and many tax cuts. PAYGO sensibly says that renewing an existing entitlement program is not “new” spending and therefore does not need to be offset. However, PAYGO applies a different standard to tax cuts. It classifies tax cut extensions as “new” tax cuts that violate PAYGO and must be offset. This makes no sense. PAYGO was intended to block the creation of new policies that increase the deficit. Simply keeping current tax policies in place should not be treated as “new” tax cuts. Additionally, the blatant double standard of allowing entitlement spending policies but not tax policies to be extended constitutes a major bias towards higher taxes and spending. For instance, PAYGO allows the extension of expiring SCHIP and farm subsidy laws, but it does not allow the extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to be patched without offsets. Even President Obama has criticized this double standard, and Congress should eliminate this baseline disparity from any PAYGO statute.
- Previous PAYGO Statutes Were Never Enforced–Even Once. Congress already had a PAYGO statute from 1991 to 2002. But this law was never enforced. Over the statute’s 12 years, Congress enacted more than $700 billion in new entitlement spending and tax cuts–and then enacted legislation cancelling every single sequestration. Even if Congress had allowed sequestration, they had already enacted legislation exempting 97 percent of all entitlement spending–all but $31 billion–from being part of any sequestration. The law was practically designed to fail. Entitlement spending actually grew faster during the 12 years of PAYGO (1991-2002) than in the 12 previous years (1980-1991). The budget did temporarily achieve balance during that period. Yet PAYGO had very little to do with it. The budget was balanced by the combination of the dot com bubble revenue boom, defense savings after the Cold War ended, and declining net interest costs.
- Current PAYGO Rules Are Not Enforced. Congress has operated under a PAYGO rule since 2007. In that short period of time, Congress has already bypassed PAYGO to: (a) Enact a stimulus bill that cost $479 billion in new entitlements and tax cuts; (b) Enact a veterans’ education entitlement bill costing $63 billion; (c) Enact a student loan expansion costing $15 billion; (d) Twice patch the AMT; and (e) Enact SCHIP and farm bills that used blatant gimmicks to hide tens of billions of dollars in new entitlement benefits.
PAYGO isn’t a fix, and neither is a freeze on non-defense discretionary spending. Both are gimmicks at best, the kind of gimmicks which the president himself said he doesn’t want. Both are examples of political gamesmanship, a superficial face card to be pulled from the sleeve by a president seriously concerned about the outward perception of his administration’s lack of fiscal restraint and financial responsibility.
But that’s been this speech in a nutshell, a string of populist soundbites tied together by bitterness and incredulity, meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator in terms of those who pay attention to the goings-on in Washington, D.C. It was written and designed to be a collection of quotes to be heard by clueless people from coast to coast as they wait for the five-day forecast from their local news station, for a headline or two in Obama-friendly newspapers to be read by people, through the plexi-glass of the newspaper box or beneath the paperweight on the newspaper stand, as they wait on a train or bus or traffic light.
I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.
From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis. It’s what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.
Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense.
Yes, please. When an American family like my own is faced with fiscal crisis, common sense dictates that we cut spending wherever we can, and that if at all possible we find ways to augment our income. The only reason we were able to pay our mortgage this month was by cutting back in as many places as we could. The government needs to do the same.
To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
That last part reminds me of what happened when someone asked Benjamin Franklin about the Constitutional Convention. Asked what he and his colleagues had given the American people, Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Franklin surely meant it as a question of the collective wisdom of the American people; here, President Obama seems to say it as though it’s another blank check for the “right kind” of government growth. The American people have awakened. They’re ready to “keep” their republic. It’s the president who isn’t listening.
That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.
White house visitors? Too easy.
But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
While I’m not an expert on American history, and certainly not an expert on the history of State of the Union addresses, this is the first time I’ve known about in which the president of the United States has actively gone after the United States Supreme Court for a decision. Even worse, the president was wrong in his assessment of the recent Citizens United v. FEC decision.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing the majority opinion in the case, noted that the Court never addressed the issue of American elections and foreign corporations, saying that “[w]e need not reach the question of whether the government has a compelling interesting in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.” The Court, in Citizens United, merely righted a constitutional wrong.
In the wake of the decision last week, liberals everywhere fumed about “judicial activism.” That’s the difference here. To liberals, this is judicial activism! Actually reclaiming the right to free political speech preserved by the First Amendment is judicial activism to them. Obama and his ilk seem to be unable to discern between activism and precedent. Activism and precedent have nothing to do with one another — precedent can be reversed when the original meaning of the Constitution demands as much, while activism is spitting on the Constitution of the United States regardless of precedent.
I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.
Didn’t he also call on Congress to publish bills 72 hours before a vote? Yeah, so much for this administration and transparency.
Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.
Democrats are the ones which have shut the door. Democrats are the ones which are shooting down amendments. Even if they don’t have the votes because of internal problems, they’ve had the majority and they’ve been acting like it. If the president wants to reform how the folks on Capitol Hill work together, he should start by instructing the bitter liberals in his party to start working together with their counterparts across the aisle. But this is neither an administration nor a Congress which has any interest in coming to the center.
Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.
But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.
So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can’t wait.
Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a conference call with Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, both Republicans. When asked by one of the other participants about the current status of the health care reform legislation which passed both the House and Senate, McCotter responded with something along the lines of: “Well, what you’re asking us would require that we look through a keyhole.”
Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.
That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.
In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.
As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.
Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.
The president may say that he’s “not interested in re-litigating the past,” but he sure is interested in bringing the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks into a civilian courtroom in Lower Manhattan, just blocks from where that terrorist’s plan killed 3,000 innocent Americans. The president may say that he’s “not interested in re-litigating the past,” but he sure is interested in investigating and prosecuting the very intelligence officials who kept this country safe for seven years following the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
If he were truly committed to the defense of this country, he would have addressed the scourge of political correctness, the very forced numbness which led to 13 dead Americans at Fort Hood and the fortuitous burning of Al Qaeda scrotum aboard an airliner headed for Detroit. If he were truly committed to the defense of this country, he would have insisted that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano skip the State of the Union address and stay home — for good.
Instead, there was no mention of radical Islam, there was no acknowledgment of what’s going on in Yemen. Instead, Barack Obama told every ne’er-do-well insurgent laying in wait in the Middle East that, after this August, Iraq will be fair game once again. Nothing like providing the bad guys with a timetable.
Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.
That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.
Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.
If John F. Kennedy had been sitting in the House chamber during President Obama’s speech, he would have been rising and falling and applauding and sitting on his hands with the Republicans. That Obama mentioned his embrace of the vision of both Kennedy and Ronald Reagan shows that he is on the right side of the nuclear weapons issue. Frankly, it’s hard not to be. As for the rest of it, it’s always nice to hear a sitting president give the United States of America the credit it deserves, especially if that president has a track record of doing just the opposite.
As the president’s rhetorical flourishes included the “girl from Afghanistan” and the “women marching through the streets of Iran,” however, I couldn’t help but wonder what it will take for President Obama and his friends on the left to acknowledge the subjugation of women which is such a hallmark of radical Islam. I won’t hold my breath. And, unfortunately, Islamic women in those nations and others like them shouldn’t, either.
We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.
And so this was a three-for-one deal. Barack Obama knows that he has the African-American community mostly on his side, so he talks about the Civil Rights Division (and, by extension, the Justice Department which has dropped charges against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia in 2008). And he knows that the disgruntled and disenfranchised gay community could be on his side as well if he would only address their key issues. And since gay marriage is being blocked at the ballot box in so many states, including California, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” might be all he can give. And, finally, there’s the Hispanic vote — despite waning political capital, I almost guarantee that comprehensive immigration reform comes into play this spring; the Democrats believe that advocating amnesty will buy votes in November, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.
Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.
No wonder there’s so much disappointment.
I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.
But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.
Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.
But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.
It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”
It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We are American.”
It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.
The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.
We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.
And with that, it was over. A populist nightmare in which Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States, decided to stay his far-left course rather than don the hat of a pragmatist and come to the political center. I can’t say I was surprised. What I can say, however, is that in the wake of what will likely happen to this president’s party in November, next year’s State of the Union address is going to be a whole lot more fun.